KITCHENER, Ontario-Michelin North America (Canada) Inc. has unveiled a program to build business and create jobs in the Kitchener area in the wake of the announcement it is closing its BFGoodrich tire plant there.
The Michelin Development initiative will aim to contribute to the "economic regeneration and long-term prosperity of the Waterloo region," the company announced March 28. The Waterloo region surrounds Kitchener and has a population of about 500,000, said John Tully, who was named director of the Michelin Development program in the area.
When Michelin announced Feb. 2 it will shut down its Kitchener plant by late July, it said it will work with government agencies, the community and the United Steelworkers union to help make the transition easier for the 1,100 salaried and hourly employees affected by the closing.
The company also said it will establish a program to boost employment in the area.
"We recognize that the BFGoodrich tire manufacturing facility in Kitchener is a significant part of the local economy and we are concerned about the impact of its closing," Tully said. "The Michelin Development program will help minimize this impact by working with community stakeholders to foster the creation of new jobs from diverse industries."
The six-year initiative will focus on the creation of new jobs by offering low-interest loans to "qualified entrepreneurs and start-up companies." The companies probably will be small- to medium-sized, with 250 or fewer workers, Tully said.
The loans will be offered through a local lender, but Michelin will be guarantor so there won´t be risk on the bank´s part, he said.
"That helps keep the rate low, and helps people who might not be able to get a loan or would pay a higher cost," Tully said.
The company also will be available for expertise for employers wanting to grow their businesses, Tully said. The program is targeting the manufacturing sector, because that´s where Michelin´s expertise and success has been, but it is open to anyone meeting the criteria, he said.
Tully said it would be wonderful if former tire plant employees applied for the loans, but stressed that anyone in the community can do so.
"Everyone will be given the same consideration," he said. "It´s a long-term community program we´re trying to build."
The company is beginning the process now, starting with market research that will give it a better idea about costs, participation and other unknowns. Tully said the initiative´s general objective is to help create "several hundred" jobs.
The Michelin Development program began 15 years ago in France, and the company has had successful ventures with it in Europe, Tully said. This is the first North American undertaking, he said.
"It´s a way to give back to the communities where we´ve operated," he said. "We want the area to continue manufacturing."
Tully-formerly director of community relations for Michelin North America-said he will move to Kitchener from Greenville, S.C. sometime this summer and establish the program´s office.