SUMTER, S.C.—Continental Tire the Americas L.L.C. won't even install equipment in a new tire plant under construction in Sumter until 2013, but it already is planning to nearly double the factory's size by 2021 and might add truck tire capacity.
Company executives, speaking at the March 28 groundbreaking ceremony for the $500 million plant, said that expenditure covers the first phase of the project. That will be a 1 million-sq.-ft. operation at a 330-acre site several miles south of Sumter in south-central South Carolina, with capacity that will reach 5 million units by 2017.
Longer term, the company plans to add more manufacturing space and boost annual capacity to 8 million passenger and light truck tires by 2021, according to Project Manager Craig Baartman.
The site has sufficient space to accommodate another doubling of capacity to 16 million units and the addition of manufacturing space for truck tires, he said. There are no concrete plans for either of these at the moment, but the space is laid out to accommodate such additions.
Conti expects to start installing equipment by May 2013 in time to start production by early 2014, Baartman said.
Production should hit 800,000 units the first year, 2 million in 2015, 3 million in 2016. When it reaches the 5 million mark in five years, employment should be at 800.
Thereafter, the plant's second-phase expansion will kick in, he said, to push capacity to 8 million units and 1,600 employees.
Conti started clearing ground for the site late last year.
Jochen Etzel, CEO of Continental Tires the Americas, called the groundbreaking a “celebration of collaboration” among state and local authorities and his company. He said it shows Conti is dedicated to the U.S. market and committed to its customers.
Conti wants to get the plant operating to improve the firm's ability to supply American replacement and original equipment customers with U.S.-built products.
Nikolai Setzer, a member of Conti's executive board and head of the company's global tire business, called the project an important part of the firm's growth strategy worldwide and in the U.S. market.
Among the guests at the groundbreaking was South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who said the state faced a lot of competition for the site selection.
“Losing (the project) was not an option,” she said. “At the end of the day, (investors) want cash flow and profit margins, and if we can give them (these), then they can hire more people.”
The project is being supported by more than $40 million in state and local assistance, according to county and city officials.
That includes a $31 million grant for purchase of and improvements to the 330-acre site south of Sumter, approved by the Sumter County Coordinating Council.
Conti also won a $4 million federally funded Community Development Block Grant through Sumter County to offset costs associated with road and public infrastructure improvements, according to Sumter County Economic Development.
Setzer said Conti has experienced growth in North America of about 20 percent annually the past few years and the added output from the plant will help the firm meet demand.
Conti also is expanding its headquarters in Lancaster County, S.C., and will add about 80 jobs there to support the firm's growth.
During the ceremony, Etzel presented a $25,000 donation to Sumter School District to help pay for 200-book classroom libraries for English classes in each of the seven middle schools in the district.