When covering the tire and rubber business as a global industry, it's easy to lose sight of the small picture. The footprint of the industry is that of an interconnected supply chain that spans the world covering countless end markets.
But on a micro scale, each point along the chain represents businesses big and small that provide jobs, and in which the communities draw a sense of pride.
Probably one of the biggest takeaways from Bridgestone Americas' Feb. 6 announcement that it will build a state-of-the-art, dedicated race tire factory in Akron, is the morale boost it will give the city.
After all, it's been a long time since the city truly held the title of "Rubber Capital of the World." It's been more than three decades since any tires other than race tires were produced in Akron. Bridgestone still manufactures Firestone-brand tires to supply the IndyCar series—including the Indianapolis 500—while Goodyear makes tires in Akron for the NASCAR circuit.
Bridgestone has long made those tires in a 100,000-sq.-ft. section of its historic Firestone Plant One in Akron, once the linchpin of its presence in Akron. The location, however, is no longer a prestigious site to match the IndyCar stage where the high-performance tires play a critical role.
That will change with the new race tire plant. The company didn't announce how much it will invest, saying it will involve new construction and renovation of an existing structure. It will be located near Bridgestone's research and development site and its Americas Technical Center, a $100 million gem Bridgestone opened in 2012.
Now let's not blow the project out of proportion. It's far from the scope of the new, large-scale tire manufacturing factories that have been going up with some regularity in the U.S. in recent years. Most of those facilities have landed in the South or in Mexico. This new race tire factory will support 50 jobs at the current plant, with the hopes of adding some along the way. To put the volume in perspective, the Akron facility will make just about 26,000 Firehawk race tires to supply IndyCar during the 2019 season.
It is, however, a high-profile investment. That's supported by the fact that Bridgestone and IndyCar at the same news conference revealed an extension of the tire maker's exclusive supply contract through 2025. The Firestone brand gets a huge boost from this arrangement. And with this new race tire facility, so does the Rubber City.