South Carolina became the largest tire producer of any U.S. state in 2013. That lead is poised to grow with Monday’s announcement that Singapore tire manufacturer Giti Tire Group will make a $560 million investment to locate a new plant in Chester County, hoping to create 1,700 jobs.
University of South Carolina research economist Dr. Douglas Woodward said many factors are drawing more and more industries to the state including infrastructure and location. “The interstate highway system, the rail links, as well as the port, those factors are very attractive,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “That also puts them in close proximity to the growing automotive industry that has spread throughout the Southeast, so they can serve the assemblers that have located in the region.”
Woodward adds that the training programs facilitated by the state’s technical college system is also an important factor in luring manufacturers to South Carolina. In all, South Carolina has Michelin, Bridgestone, Continental, and other smaller tire manufacturers.
While many point to BMW’s decision to locate in the Upstate as the catalyst for the state’s so-called “industrial renaissance,” Woodward said it was actually tires that started it all. “It really started when (Michelin) made their decision to come (to South Carolina) back in 1975 and made a major investment. A multi-national company from Europe establishing its headquarters here in South Carolina, then others came, Bosch and then BMW in the 1990s that attracted even more attention.”
Woodward said South Carolina won the battle over neighboring North Carolina for the Giti Tire plant. While some economic incentives may have helped close the deal, Woodward points to the continued aggressive recruiting strategy employed by the South Carolina Department of Commerce.
“It’s been an explicit part of the strategy of Bobby Hitt who is our Commerce Secretary,” he said. “He worked at BMW, he knows the industry. He said that he wanted Boeing on one end of the state and BMW on the other and he is going to fill in the rest of the state with tires. And it seems to be happening.”
Giti Tire Group will receive more than $40 million in economic benefits from state, county and local government entities toward the construction of the plant in Chester County.
Woodward said while major industrial giants BMW and Boeing grab the headlines, the future of economic growth in South Carolina will be predicated in large measure by the supplier industries that the major industries attract to the area.
“That’s what happening her with tires, that’s going to happen around the aerospace industry. There is some synergies between aerospace and the automotive cluster that will draw in these suppliers, and hopefully more sophisticated suppliers will come over time.”
Over the next few years, it is projected that Michelin, Bridgestone, Continental and Giti will collectively employ over 14,000 workers.