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New $560M Giti Tire mega-plant could ‘reshape Chester Co.’s economic future’

tkimball@heraldonline.com

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster praised the new $560 million Giti Tire mega-plant in Richburg as a “game changer” for Chester County, and predicted the company would help attract thousands more jobs to the area.

McMaster said the plant, which will begin production this year, proved South Carolina to be a “handshake state” that gets deals done quickly and decisively.

“We’re on top of the world and we need to keep on going,” said McMaster, who toured the 1.6 million-square-foot complex for nearly two hours Wednesday morning. “The best is yet to come.”

Invited guests or speakers included Walmart CEO and president Greg Foran, S.C. Sen. Mike Fanning, S.C. Rep. Bruce Bryant and McMaster’s wife Peggy.

The plant — Giti Tire’s first North American manufacturing facility and its ninth worldwide — currently employs 200 workers. Officials expect to double that number by the end of the year. Hank Eisenga, Giti’s vice president of manufacturing, said the Richburg facility hopes to employ at least 1,000 workers by the end of 2018.

It’s taken a long time to get to production, Eisenga said. Giti Tire USA has spent at least three years building and fitting the massive site near the Interstate 77 interchange at S.C. 9.

Initial production is expected to total around 5 million tires per year or 30,000 per day. Sales will begin next spring.

Much of the early production will be focused on two types of Dextero-brand tires, which will be available at Walmart stores and on Walmart.com. The company also will provide Giti tires for the 2019 Volkswagen Passat in the near future.

Surrounded by at least 150 new Giti workers, decked in black or blue polo shirts emblazoned with the company logo, Armand Allaire, the vice president of sales, said excitement was in the air.

“You are smelling excitement,” said Allaire, addressing a crowd of lawmakers, guests and media. “We will not bottle this essence, but we will generate it daily.”

Giti Tire officials say they hope to hire up to 1,700 workers over the next decade. If sales are high, they say they have the ability to expand further on their roughly 1,500-acre campus.

Executive chairman Enki Tan projects employing as many as 5,000 workers. Tan said he is passionate about working hand-in-hand with local school districts and technical colleges to recruit and train highly-skilled employees for demanding and highly-automated labor.

Eisenga said it’s not immediately clear what pay ranges those jobs could offer.

Having access to the Port of Charleston, the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and an available workforce in Chester County was key to bringing Giti to the area, Tan said.

“It is truly a momentous occasion for Giti Tire, for South Carolina and for Chester County,” Tan said.

Foran said the move “goes a long way” to bolstering Walmart’s “Made In America” campaign. According to Walmart, the company is investing $250 billion in products that support American jobs.

The Boston Consulting Group, a firm that helps businesses be more efficient, predicts Walmart’s initiative could create around 250,000 manufacturing jobs.

Foran said McMaster told him South Carolina’s future is so bright, he would have to keep his solar eclipse glasses from the nationwide event earlier this summer. For good measure, Foran said he brought a pair of Walmart-brand eclipse glasses to give to McMaster.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of this,” Foran said. “I couldn’t be prouder.”

McMaster said he saw the Giti-Walmart connection as a happy marriage. “I wish we could do something like this for every county,” he said.

Chester County Supervisor Shane Stuart agrees.

He called Giti Tire “Chester County’s BMW,” referring to the massive German automotive manufacturing plant which employs around 9,000 workers in Spartanburg.

“This will help reshape Chester County’s economic future,” Stuart said.

David Thackham: 803-329-4066, @dthackham

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