AKRON — Bridgestone/Firestone is studying what to do with its Akron-based technical center-a move that will either see the operaton stay in Akron or move closer to company headquarters in the Nashville, Tenn., area.
The company is nearing the end of a two-year evaluation that has brought BFS to consider three options: renovate the current facility at a cost in the "tens of millions of dollars"; build a new center in Akron; or build a facility in Middle Tennessee near Nashville.
A core team will gather and analyze information regarding company needs, costs and proposals from various governmental entities before making a recommendation by the end of May to senior management of Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire L.L.C. and Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc. If the recommendation is taken, the final decision-expected by year´s end-will be made by the boards of Bridgestone Americas and Bridgestone Corp., its Japanese parent.
The technical center currently is housed in the 97-year-old building that originally served as one of Firestone´s tire factories. It was last renovated in the mid- to late-1980s to serve as corporate headquarters and technical center.
Since BFS moved its headquarters to Nashville, the building has housed the tech center, staffed by engineers, scientists, designers and support staff who do all the product development work for tire manufacturing in North, Central and South America. It also is home to legal, human resources, payroll and information technology employees, along with race tire production.
All except race tires, which will stay put no matter what, are included as part of the tech center decision, according to Bob Handlos, vice president of materials and racing technology for Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire. He is heading the team conducting the evaluation.
Handlos said the main objective of his team is to ensure that the company gets a world-class facility. "Our company needs, and our first-class teammates deserve, a first-class technology building," he said.
While it would seem that the firm would favor getting a new facility if possible, Handlos said renovating the current building remains a viable option. "We´ll make the best decision based on both quantitative and qualitative data," he said. "In the end, renovations may end up being the best option."
During the company´s two-year study, once it was decided to consider locations outside of Akron, areas other than Akron and Middle Tennessee were evaluated, but those two were determined to be the best options.
Cost and financial incentives aren´t the only factors being looked at, Handlos said. Such variables as cost of living, cost of construction, quality of educational systems and access to area universities will play into the decision as well.
From here, the BFS team will continue discussions with local entities. He stressed that the company hasn´t asked for any specific incentive packages-just that the governments look at what BFS needs and then propose what they can provide.
"We´re being open and honest with the government entities about the type of building we need," Handlos said. "We´ll let them decide what makes sense from their side."
If it is decided to go with a new building, the company said it expects construction would begin in 2010 with completion by the end of 2011. A timetable to renovate the existing tech center likely would be similar.
BFS employs about 1,000 in Akron, with 630 to be impacted by this decision. Another 140 work in race tire production, with the remainder employed at the firm´s area research center, computer center and Firestone Polymers headquarters. None of those operations will be affected, Handlos said.