Chester County is taking its place in South Carolina’s tire kingdom.
Giti Tire, a Singapore-based manufacturer, ended weeks of speculation over who might come to Chester County, announcing Monday it will build a $560 million plant and create about 1,700 jobs in Chester County over the next decade.
The plant will be at a “mega site” off Interstate 77, bounded by S.C. 9 on the north and Old Richburg Road to the south.
Giti Tire’s investment, the number of jobs and the likelihood of spinoff economic development thrilled Chester County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey.
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“I’d have crawled up here if I had to,” said Roddey of the announcement. He goes into the hospital Tuesday for back surgery.
“If every Monday started like this, I’d think I was in heaven.”
The Chester County announcement was one-third of what Gov. Nikki Haley dubbed the “ultimate economic hat trick.”
Within six hours, Haley and her team of state and local economic developers announced 7,100 jobs should be coming to South Carolina over the next few years with an investment of $800 million.
Monday’s announcements represent 12 percent of the total number of jobs Haley says she has helped create as governor.
After the Giti announcement, the Lash Group and LPL Financial Carolinas each said they are leaving Charlotte for Fort Mill.
The Lash Group plans to invest $90 million in a new company headquarters for up to 2,400 employees.
LPL Financial plans to invest at least $150 million in a new regional headquarters for up to 3,000 workers.
Both companies are locating in the Kingsley North business park at S.C. 160 and I-77.
Giti: ‘Complicated’ plant
Giti Tire’s announcement ends a string of “almost” deals for Chester County, where the recruitment of large-scale companies offering a significant number of jobs fell through repeatedly.
“We could fill up the landfill with bouquets from failed deals,” Roddey said. “This one I’ll frame.”
The plant – Giti Tire’s first North American manufacturing facility, its ninth worldwide – will produce both passenger and light truck tires. Workers at the 1.8-million-square-foot plant will both make and distribute tires. The company brands include GT Radial and Primewell.
No timetable for construction was announced. Chester officials have said work could start within several weeks. Company officials said it will be as long as they need to build the “complicated” plant.
During the first phase of production, the plant is expected make 5 million tires annually, or 30,000 a day. Giti Tire said it plans to increase production capacity depending on demand and market conditions.
The tire plant will be the 10th in the state, solidifying South Carolina’s claim as the leading tire manufacturer and exporter in the country. Currently, tire companies in South Carolina make 84,000 tires a day.
Haley said the opening of Giti’s first U.S. operation was a “big step for them, and this was not a comfortable step for them to take. We had to give them comfort.”
Incentives were part of South Carolina’s deal.
The state’s Coordinating Council on Economic Development approved a $37.8 million grant to help purchase and improve the mega site property. The Rural Infrastructure Authority approved a $2 million grant to assist with extending water and sewer to the site.
The company also will qualify for job development credits which provide companies with funds – for up to 10 years – to help offset the cost of locating a facility, buying equipment and training employees. The credits are based on the number of jobs created.
The Chester County Council approved a fee-in-lieu ordinance that will reduce the company’s property taxes. Details of the agreement, which was passed just before the announcement, were not available Monday.
The public funds are in addition to private investments at the site. Steve Gedney, senior vice president of the Lancaster and Chester Railroad, said the company’s development arm invested about $5 million in 2006 to grade about 230 acres of the site for a prospect.
Enki Tan, Giti’s executive chairman, said Chester County was “basically the sweet spot we wanted to be in.”
He said the company considered expansion for several years before deciding on Chester. Tan did not release other locations Giti considered.
Tan said the site’s location off the interstate with access to airports in Columbia and Charlotte and rail and truck access to the port of Charleston was critical.
Most of the raw materials for the tires will be produced in the United States and arrive by trucks, Tan said. Rubber from Southeast Asia will be imported through the port of Charleston, and finished tires may be exported.
Chester County also is close to many of the 7,000 outlets that distribute Giti tires, including Wal-Mart.
The announcement is a boon for Chester County, which has been hard hit by the death of the textile industry. When the textile plants closed, Chester died, residents said.
Retailers of all kinds moved or closed. Those that stayed struggled.
When the recession hit, Chester residents seeking work had to leave the county to find jobs. In 2009, the height of the downturn, one out of every five Chester County residents was looking for employment, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Chester’s current unemployment rate is 6.9 percent, 10th highest in the state.
While the unemployment rate has been steadily dropping – it was 10.9 percent a year ago at this time – most Chester residents leave the county for work. One out of every two workers in Chester commutes to work, most often either to York County or Mecklenburg County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The new tire plant is expected to change that pattern. The plant is expected to draw workers from nearby counties, which also have struggled with high unemployment.
Fairfield County to the south has an unemployment rate of 6.1 percent, 16th highest in the state. York County’s rate is 5.9 percent, 15th highest, and Lancaster County’s jobless rate is 5.8 percent, 18th highest.
Monday’s announcement drew a full house to the Gateway Conference Center in Richburg. Highlights of the event included a live video greeting from other Giti plants and the cutting of a cake.
Much of the talk was about family, the family atmosphere of Chester County and the 60-year history of a family-owned company.
Tom Hamilton, a former Chester County supervisor, said Monday’s announcement was all about helping residents help themselves, noting that lines of people waiting for free food are still long in downtown Chester.
The tire plant, he said, is about those people working to put food on the table for themselves and their families.
“This is about pride,” he said, “family pride.”