Continental Tire headquarters moving south

INDIAN LAND -- Continental Tire North America will move its corporate headquarters from Charlotte to northern Lancaster County in 2009, the company announced Wednesday, in what is becoming a coup for Charlotte's southern neighbor.

The $11 million, 75,000-square-foot office facility is under construction in the MacMillan Business Park near Indian Land. It will house more than 300 existing employees, according to a news release from the S.C. Department of Commerce.

Wednesday's announcement follows a flurry of activity in the Lancaster panhandle in recent years. Since 2005, a handful of companies with Charlotte headquarters have revealed intentions to move to Lancaster County, including Wellman Industries, Inspiration Networks and Continental. PCI Group, a New York-based collection letter mailing service, in December announced plans to move to Indian Land later this year.

Continental spokesman Rick Holcomb cited a "very proactive business climate" in South Carolina as a reason for the company's move.

Keith Tunnell, president of the Lancaster County Economic Development Corporation said the international tire-maker would receive state incentives. Also, the Lancaster County Council will vote on an incentive package that would freeze Continental's property fees at 6 percent in lieu of taxes and offer about $200,000 in property tax rebates over two years, Tunnell said.

"Any time you land a headquarters of an international company, it's a good thing," Tunnell said, adding the high-paying management jobs associated with the Continental office would benefit the community. "Over time, you hope the individuals in these jobs will decide to live here and invest in our community and our schools. It's an overall win-win for the community."

One councilman sees little benefit

Councilman Bryan Vaughn, who represents Indian Land, said there would be little benefit for the county because the jobs coming to the county are already taken.

"Well, it's a corporate headquarters, not a manufacturing plant," Vaughn said. "I would prefer to see manufacturing come here. We really need blue-collar jobs, and we're getting white-collar jobs."

Continental's production facility off Westinghouse Boulevard in Charlotte is still under lease and will remain open, the company said.

Continental ceased tire-making operations at that site in 2006 and laid off nearly 500 workers after a lengthy union dispute. The move was followed by a class-action lawsuit from retirees who alleged Continental unfairly increased health-care premiums. A judge ruled in favor of the retirees last year.

Continental officials on Wednesday hailed the move to Lancaster as a positive sign for the company.

"This is an exciting move for CTNA and one that's good for employees, our business and the region," Matthias Schoenberg, CEO of CTNA said in a statement. "We are grateful to Gov. Sanford and so many others in the state of South Carolina for the opportunity to relocate there, and we look forward to calling Lancaster County home."

Tunnell said Continental's plans for the move have been in the works for some time, and Lancaster County officials approved the site plans last year.

The site of the new headquarters is one-half-mile west of U.S. 521 near the S.C. 160 intersection. It's about four miles from Interstate 77 in York County and less than two miles from the North Carolina border.