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South Carolina council advocates for tire makers

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COLUMBIA, S.C.—Tire manufacturers can be very demanding, and with Michelin, Bridgestone Corp. and Continental A.G. investing billions in their 13 combined plants in South Carolina, it is only natural they would collaborate on common legislative interests.

That's why the three firms established a Tire Manufacturers' Council through the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce in the spring of 2013. The goal of the council is to evaluate and propose policies relating to tire manufacturing in the state.

“Our objective is to serve as a unified voice for the tire manufacturing industry in the state,” said Chris Gullott, director of state and federal government affairs for Bridgestone Americas Inc. and chair of the council since July 2014. “Our industry has become one of the largest and arguably one of the most important in South Carolina. It represents numerous investments from our respective companies.”

Gullott said one of the first issues the council successfully addressed was the Federal Water Resources Development Act of 2013. The tire council weighed in on the measure in large part because of the importance of the long-term viability of projects related to the Port of Charleston, maintenance to the port and its improvement.

The act helped ensure that projects to improve and maintain the port could move forward unhampered, Gullott said. All three tire makers utilize the port for various export and import activities related to their business.

The council also wanted the South Carolina General Assembly to pass a used tire safety measure toward the end of May 2014, but the proposal did not receive enough votes. He said it would have established a one-year pilot program that would have reduced the sale of unsafe used tires across the state.

“We came close,” Gullott said. “We ran out of time essentially, but we came close to doing it, so we're going to try again next assembly.”

He said the council has an ambitious agenda for 2015, which includes working with the state to bolster scrap tire rules as they pertain to the transportation of scrap tires. The council wants to reduce illegal scrap tire dumping.

“It's an important issue and one that we're looking to possibly work with the state to enhance,” Gullott said. “However South Carolina has historically been a state that's done things right when it comes to scrap tire management. We credit a lot of that success to the Department of Environmental Control.”

In addition, he said the council plans to emphasize the importance of good roads and strong transportation infrastructure with the General Assembly and consider the possibility of undertaking an economic study to examine the broad economic impact that the tire industry has in South Carolina.

The chair will transfer from Gullott to a Continental representative in 2015. The council's chair rotates annually from each of the member companies in the order they established themselves in the state. Michelin's Steve Evered, vice president of government affairs, was the council's first chair.

Each firm has two representatives, Gullott said, and each member company is a member of South Carolina's Chamber of Commerce.

He said Trelleborg A.G. and Giti Tire Group—projected to establish tire manufacturing in the state by 2016—have not reached out to join the council at this point.

“Council members had discussed and agreed that (Giti) would qualify for membership and obviously they'd be a welcomed addition to the council,” Gullott said.