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Sumter tire plant begins receiving equipment


By James T. Hammond
jhammond@scbiznews.com
Published Feb. 20, 2013

Some 140 containers of tire-making equipment have already arrived at the Continental Tire plant under construction near Sumter.

Installation of the tire manufacturing equipment will begin in early March.

Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt (left) and Continental Tire’s Sumter plant manager, Craig Baartman, sign the beam that marked the completion of the steel structure of the Sumter plant. (Photo/James T. Hammond)
Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt (left) and Continental Tire’s Sumter plant manager, Craig Baartman, sign the beam that marked the completion of the steel structure of the Sumter plant. (Photo/James T. Hammond)
Plant Manager Craig Baartman said Tuesday he expects to make the first test tire — something “black and round” — this summer, but production of tires for sale is scheduled to begin early next year.

On Tuesday, the attention of Continental Tire staff, joined by state and local officials, was upon a brightly colored beam with numerous signatures on it. The beam, painted with the German company’s trademark “conti orange” color marked the completion of construction of the steel frame of the 1 million-square-foot production facility located off U.S. 521, on a 330-acre site.

The groundbreaking for the huge tire factory was held just 11 months ago. Today the superstructure of the building is up, and some parts of the plant already have outside walls erected. On Tuesday, gray skies and rain made the plant site a wet, muddy place. But Baartman said the Walbridge/Mashburn construction team was pushing ahead to keep the construction on schedule.

Continental has set an ambitious schedule to make Sumter a tire-making behemoth. By 2017, the company aims to be making 4.5 million to 5 million tires a year. By 2021, when a second phase of construction is complete, production is expected to rise to 8 million tires per year.

By the end of this year, Baartman said Continental expects to employ 300 of its manufacturing workers, the first wave of the 1,600 people who will work in the plant when it is finished and fully operational.

S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt, acknowledging the plans for phase II of the Sumter plant, added, “We think there’s probably more to come after that and we’ll just keep working on that.”

Hitt noted that it’s been two decades since he participated in the groundbreaking for BMW Manufacturing’s plant in Spartanburg County, where he worked for 18 years. He described how the German company’s arrival has changed the face of manufacturing in South Carolina.

“This has been a game-changer for us,” Hitt said. “We’re on the path to become one of the manufacturing capitals of the world. We need to stay ahead of the trend, not just be a part of it.”

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