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      Continental Tire breaks ground on $500M Sumter Co. plant

      SUMTER, S.C. (WACH) -- Continental Tire broke ground Wednesday on a one million-square-foot plant that will eventually put up to 1,600 people on the job.

      Work has already started on clearing the 330-acre site for the plant and construction on the facility is expected to be complete by the end of next year.

      Sumter County beat out Louisiana and North Carolina for the $500 million plant. Continental Tire says the facility should make its first tire in 2014.

      "Continental could have gone anywhere in the U.S.," said Greg Thompson of the Sumter Economic Development Board. "They chose us for their new home. All eyes are on us and we will deliver."

      The German tire giant will start delivering management positions this year.The company will hire roughly 300 production workers at first, with training set to start in approximately a year.

      Tire production goes online in 2014, and eventually the facility could be turning out 5 million tires a year based on demand. Continental has promised up 1,600 jobs but it is projected that many people will not be employed until 2021 as the company rolls out its manufacturing operation in phases.

      "Our plans have been met with great enthusiasm," said Craig Baartman of Continental Tire, The Americas. "We've received literally hundreds of inquiries."

      That comes as no small surprise in a region starved for employment. Sumter County's jobless rate is still more than 10-percent. But, Continental's commitment to the area is just the latest in a recent uptick in positive job news in the region.

      Last month, Chinese candy company Au'Some put a plant online in Sumter County pledging more than 100 jobs, $6 million, and the potential for expansion.

      In early March, the county's Caterpillar plant also added 100 positions.

      "In the past we have lost a lot of our young people who go off and seek employment in other states," said Sumter County councilman Eugene Baten. "Because of what we're doing here today a lot of those young people can stay here."

      The state's unemployment rate is now at 9.3 percent after six months of declines. It was 10.5 percent when Gov. Nikki Haley took office in January 2011.

      Over the last year, the governor has touted a number of major jobs announcements, including a record-setting investment by Bridgestone Tire in Aiken County last fall.

      Haley celebrated the Continental deal as one of the crown jewels in her push to bring jobs back to the state as she helped break ground on the facility Wednesday.

      "We're bringing companies here. We're manufacturing. We build things," said Haley. "We build planes, we build cars, we build tires, we make candy. South Carolina is a state that makes things and people across the country are taking notice."