Bridgestone expansion to bring 850+ jobs, $1.2 billion to struggling SC economy

Wednesday's announcement / Brian McConchie

GRANITEVILLE (WACH, AP) -- Bridgestone America is bringing the largest ever single initial capital investment in South Carolina history to Aiken County.

During an announcement in Graniteville Wednesday, company officials alongside state and local leaders made an announcement that the tire and rubber company will bring 850 new jobs and a $1.2 billion investment to South Carolina's ailing economy.

Bridgestone officials are calling it Project Hercules and it gives the state a much-needed economic shot in the arm.

"When it comes to economic development one thing is clear, South Carolina clearly gets it,"said Gary Garfield, CEO and President of Bridgestone Americas, Inc. "That's what makes South Carolina such a great place to do business and we're proud to be a part of it."

Despite Bridgestone's opinion of South Carolina's economic chops, the latest unemployment numbers, released last week, show South Carolina has a 11.1 percent jobless rate, tied for fourth highest in the nation, after three straight months of increases.

The first phase of jobs in the Bridgestone expansion should be available in late 2013.

"You want everybody to step up and apply for the jobs, " said Governor Nikki Haley following the announcment. "What I appreciate from Bridgestone is that they've made a commitment to make sure for their contracts they're going to use as many South Carolina small businesses that they can. It's another great win for South Carolina."

Bridgestone says it will build its new 1.5 million-square-foot radial tire plant in phases, plus expand its existing light truck tire plant by 474,000 square feet. Completion of the new plant is expected in 2020.

Those projects are in addition to the announcement in July to add 266,000 square feet to Bridgestone's current plant.

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Bridgestone Americas is a world-class manufacturer and this investment will be a real game-changer," said Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt. The company TMs new plant will further strengthen South Carolina TMs manufacturing sector, and shows that our business-friendly environment and top-notch talent continue to keep us competitive with locations across the globe.

The South Carolina Department of Commerce provided $15.5 million in grants as an incentive to entice the expansion. Roughly $6 million of that goes to improving public roads near the job site.

Earlier this summer, Governor Haley publicly criticized a tax break incentive offered to online giant Amazon to help lure them and thousands of jobs to the Midlands. The debate over that nearly killed the deal.

The value of the jobs announcement trumps Boeing's 2009 promise to bring $750 million to the state. However, the aerospace giant also promised 3,800 jobs with its North Charleston facility.

Wednesday's announcement by Haley and Bridgestone is the latest in a string of employment deals she has been unveiling around the state in recent months. Those appearance have drawn criticism from state Democrats as unemployment continues to climb.

"This is more about public relations for her than it is about actually improving the quality of life for the people of South Carolina," said state Democratic party chair Dick Harpootlian.

Publicity stunt or not, the 850 people who will someday join the Bridgestone employees who were looking on proudly Wednesday will be happy to be getting a paycheck.

"These are great quality jobs, working for a great quality company," said Gov. Haley. "When you can partner and put that in Graniteville, South Carolina there's nothing better than that. We are thrilled . "

According to a poll released earlier this week by Winthrop University, likely voters in South Carolina say the economy is the number one priority facing politicians.

What does this, combined with other recent job and expansion announcements, mean for the future of South Carolina's economy? Vote in our poll and leave a comment to weigh in.