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Officials Weigh Incentives for Gadsden Goodyear Plant

(Akron/Tire Review – Gadsden Times) Local and Alabama officials are discussing a financial incentives package that would keep Gadsden’s Goodyear tire plant out of the line of fire as company officials determine plant closures.

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Goodyear is continuing talks with its workers’ union on a new labor pact that would improve the company’s competitiveness in a global market.

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The Steelworkers want job security in the new labor deal. The latest proposal from Goodyear on Tuesday offers that, but it also allows the company to close two of the 12 plants under its master contract with the United Steelworkers.

Goodyear has not said which plants are targeted for closure, though USW said in June the company would not guarantee job security obtained in the labor agreement three years ago for union plants in Gadsden, Union City, Tenn., and Tyler, Texas.

At least one other tire plant may be on Goodyear’s hit list.

In recent weeks, local and state officials in Fayetteville, N.C., acknowledged work was under way on a $40 million taxpayer-backed incentives package for Goodyear. Officials in Tyler, Texas, also are said to be working on an incentives package in case one is needed.

Goodyear corporate spokeswoman Amy Brei said Sept. 15 that the four plants produce tires affected by Goodyear’s decision three months ago to cut one-third of its private label business by June. The reduction of 8 million tires per year, she said, means "investment is needed in the plants to enable them to make higher-value tires."

Brei said Goodyear corporate officials, whom she declined to name, have attended only one meeting about an incentives package for the company’s Gadsden facility.

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That meeting took place in early August in Montgomery with Gov. Bob Riley and some of his staff, she said. Goodyear’s local management attended the meeting, as did local legislators.

"Goodyear indicated to the state leaders that investment is needed in the plant to make it more efficient and competitive," Brei said.

She said Goodyear’s management team at the Gadsden facility has had several meetings on the matter since the state-level gathering.

Mike McCain, executive director of the Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority, said a number of meetings took place to "deliberate ways and means to help ensure the competitive position of this plant in the marketplace."

No specific proposals have been made to Goodyear, McCain said, and no firm decisions have been made on anything concerning an incentives package.

"Goodyear hasn’t asked for anything specific," McCain said.

Likewise, Brei said no specific amount of assistance has been discussed during the meetings.

Rep. Blaine Galliher, R-Rainbow City, said he understands Goodyear’s position as one where "they’re wanting to reinvest in some facilities and they’re asking what could we do to encourage them to reinvest in Gadsden."

He said local and state officials recognize the value of the Gadsden plant and its economic impact and are "aggressively working" on the issue despite there being no defined plan.

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"It truly is a work in progress," he added. "We’re committed to make this thing work and make it happen."

Galliher said for the Gadsden Goodyear plant to be viable in the long term, it must have capital investment.

"Our goal is to put ourselves in the best position possible to encourage Goodyear to make that capital investment," he added.

McCain said it’s obvious Gadsden’s Goodyear plant, which has operated since 1929, has a tremendous impact on the local and state economy considering "the annual payroll is over $80 million and more than 1,400 people are employed there."

To gauge the impact amount, the board of directors for the IDA decided Thursday to hire Keivan Deravi, an economics professor at Auburn University in Montgomery, to do an economic impact analysis of the Gadsden tire plant on the local area and the state.

McCain said the study will cost $12,500.

It should be completed no later than the end of October.

He stressed that analysis "has no bearing on the subject of our local deliberations because common sense tells you the economic impact is huge."

Even so, there is a need to know specifically what the numbers are, McCain said.

Aside from the four members of Etowah County’s legislative delegation, discussions about Gadsden’s Goodyear plant have included local elected officials, specifically Gadsden Mayor Steve Means and Gadsden Mayor-elect Sherman Guyton, McCain said.

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Gadsden’s plant manager, Chris Koscho, and USW Local 12 Vice President Bren Riley also have been involved in the meetings locally and in Montgomery.

Koscho referred questions to Goodyear’s corporate office.

Riley said he did not attend the meeting with the governor, but attended a later meeting in Montgomery with the Business Council of Alabama.

He also has been to meetings in Gadsden at the union hall and the IDA’s office.

Along with Alabama, Goodyear corporate leaders apparently have visited officials in Tennessee, Texas and North Carolina.

Riley said he believes everyone recognizes industrial recruitment is a "very competitive world" and the process involves many unknowns.

"It’s kind of like a silent auction," he added. "You don’t know what the other groups are going to do or can do and you don’t know what we can do."

The USW official said the ongoing labor negotiations would play a role in whatever happens.

"Goodyear is going to take the best deal," he added. "I think there’ll be many factors. They’ll look at the productivity of the plant and the working relationship between the union and management. I think we’ve got a good one here in Gadsden and we’ve got a good work force."

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