Last week’s announcement by Kumho Tire Co. that it was indeed following through on its plans to build a radial tire plant in Georgia first announced in 2008 certainly brought relief to state and local officials.
But the announcement itself spoke of a slightly downsized plan, and offered no actual timetable for a restart of construction let alone a date when production tires would start rolling.
Kumho officially broke ground in May 2008 for what was to be a $225 million state-of-the-art passenger tire that would start production in late 2009 with 450 employees producing an initial 2.1 million tires per year. By November 2008, the global economic meltdown forced Kumho to mothball the planned 5.7-million-square-foot plant. And then Kumho’s own financial issues, including a multi-year “work out” program to repay debts accumulated by its parent company, kept the program further under wraps.
Many times over the intervening years, Kumho and local officials assured that the plant would go forward, even though none had firm plans. The announcement on Sept. 5, while not any more surprising, was the most concrete commitment yet.
With the end of the work out in sight, Kumho officials feel comfortable re-committing to the Macon-Bibb County project, even as they have reduced the employment plan from 450 to 300 people but apparently upped initial capacity to 3 million tires per year.
“There’s a famous saying that goes, ‘Sometimes the best things in life are worth waiting for,’” said Harry Choi, president of Kumho Tire Georgia. “Well, I’m here to tell you the wait is officially over.
"Kumho’s commitment to Macon-Bibb never wavered,” said Choi. “Worldwide economic conditions have greatly affected our company as well as the worldwide tire industry. Kumho Tire Georgia is strong and committed to Macon-Bibb and the U.S. tire industry. We thank the community, our suppliers, our employees and our customers for their support."
In his remarks at the press conference announcing the re-commitment, Choi said he was “certain the factory will be funded, but construction won’t start for about two more years, possibly in August 2015,” according to a news report. “The factory could begin production in late 2016," he said.
That is as close as anyone connected to Kumho came to setting definite construction and production dates. According to a Kumho Tire USA spokesperson, the company did not set specific dates for the restart of construction or for the beginning of commercial production.
At the same time, Kumho and various government bodies Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, Bibb County Board of Education, Bibb County Tax Assessors, Bibb County Tax Commissioner, Bibb County Commissioners, and the Macon Economic Development Commission signed an extension to their original 2008 agreement.
"This agreement includes substantial commitments from Kumho Tire Georgia to their goal to complete this tire plant," said MBCIA Chairman Cliffard Whitby. "The community’s interests, the state’s as well as Kumho’s, were all addressed in this extension agreement.”
Macon Mayor Robert Reichert stated, "We worked hard together to attract Kumho and new jobs to Macon-Bibb, and we’ve never lost that focus. The recession faced by our entire country did affect the timeline, but we all remained firm that this would be the best place for the plant."
"The community never lost its support for Kumho," said Sam Hart, chairman of the Bibb County Commission. "And we know they never lost sight of their goal to build this plant in Georgia and in Macon-Bibb County."