A Chinese tire company plans to open a manufacturing plant in Orangeburg County that will eventually employ 1,200 workers, solidifying South Carolina’s position as the nation’s leading producer of automotive and industrial tires.
The state-owned Wanli Tire Corp. plans to invest $1 billion over eight years at an unidentified location, company officials said in a statement. The deal was finalized in late April.
Plans for the facility were outlined in a written request from state Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt to a legislative committee seeking approval to borrow $40.5 million to assist in developing the plant site.
Fu Shoujie, chairman of the group that oversees Wanli Tire Corp., said in a news release that the company has the ability to participate in “real-world competition.” The company says it is the largest producer of radial tires in southern China and is one of the country’s largest radial tire exporters. The company now produces 16 million tires a year, according to its website.
Company officials were unavailable to discuss when construction would start or when they expect the plant to be finished. In the statement, the company said it expects the Orangeburg plant to produce 6 million tires a year initially.
That’s a “very healthy” goal but doable, said Lewis Gossett, president of the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance.
Wanli ranks 42nd in global tire sales, with $526.7 million in sales last year, according to Tire Business magazine.
The company would become the sixth international tire maker to call the Palmetto State home, with four opening plants or announcing investment plans since 2011.
Companies with existing major plants in the state are Michelin, based in France, with manufacturing plants in Greenville, Spartanburg and Lexington; Bridgestone, based in Japan, Aiken; Continental, based in Germany, Sumter; and Trelleborg, based in Sweden, Spartanburg. Trelleborg specializes in tires for farming.
Giti Tires of Singapore is building a plant in Chester County.
The total number of employees at the tire companies will exceed 15,000 after Giti and Wanli open, state officials say.
“Landing another tire plant is not surprising,” Gossett said. “We’re perfect for them.”
In a news release, Wanli officials cited the state’s central location on the Atlantic Coast and the more than 200 auto-parts makers located here as instrumental in their decision. The state is home to a BMW manufacturing plant in Spartanburg that employs about 8,800 people. Plus, Volvo is building a major plant in Berkeley County that will employ at least 2,000 workers in its initial phase. Mercedes-Benz Vans is building a plant in Charleston that will employ up to 1,300 people.
Orangeburg County had several advantages in attracting the plant, Gossett said.:
▪ A short drive from the Port of Charleston
▪ Its location at I-26 and I-95 provides access to major routes
▪ A local technical college — Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College — that is adept at customized employee training in a business that depends increasingly on technology
The imminent arrival of Wanli is a cause for celebration among local leaders.
“That will be a great day,” said state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg. “The community has been working together to bring jobs here.”
In April, Orangeburg County had the state’s fourth-highest unemployment rate at 6 percent, although that was a sharp decline from March’s 6.7 percent.
Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young referred questions to the state Department of Commerce, which declined to comment.
The $40.5 million raised by the state would pay for site development, a rail line and roads, according to the request from Hitt, the commerce secretary, to the Joint Bond Review Committee.
Wanli joins other Chinese companies coming to the United States to avoid paying import taxes, according to Tire Business editor Don Detore.
Late last year, China Jushi, a fiberglass products manufacturer, broke ground on a $300 million plant in Richland County that’s expected to create 400 jobs.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483
By the numbers
Top tire-making states with amounts produced daily, according to Tire Business magazine. Figures are from 2016.
▪ South Carolina:107,000
▪ Oklahoma: 89,000
▪ North Carolina: 75,000
▪ Illinois: 57,150
▪ Tennessee: 51,050