Don Worthington

Would-be subcontractors make pitches to Giti Tire in Chester Co.

Bobby D. Ray, director of operations for Process Automation Solutions of Greenville, left, talks with Zachary Cosby, project manager for Shimizu North America, the contractor building the Giti Tire plant in Richburg.
Bobby D. Ray, director of operations for Process Automation Solutions of Greenville, left, talks with Zachary Cosby, project manager for Shimizu North America, the contractor building the Giti Tire plant in Richburg. dworthington@heraldonline.com

Smiles, firm handshakes and business cards were the essential commodities at Giti Tire’s recent meeting for potential subcontractors.

More than 300 people filled half of the Gateway Conference Center ballroom – the very place Giti announced last year that it was coming to Chester County. Giti plans to invest $560 million in a plant that could make 5 million tires annually by 2018. The plant is expected to employ about 1,700 people.

Everyone who patiently waited in line had a few minutes of one-on-one time with either Hank Eisenga, Giti Tire’s vice president of manufacturing, or Zachary Cosby, project manager for Shimizu North America, the contractor building the tire plant.

It was a chance for everyone to make the personal contact so essential in today’s business world. Subcontractors had a chance to present their own mini commercial – or, as Bobby D. Ray, director of operations for Process Automation Solutions of Greenville, put it, “the chance to show we can add value.”

Some of the potential contractors were large firms with significant experience in automotive and tire plant construction, such as AAR Roofing & Sheet Metal Co. of Kernersville, N.C., just outside of Winston-Salem. The firm has done work for BMW, Bridgestone and Michelin.

Ray Eller, AAR’s director of business development, made the roughly four-hour roundtrip to listen to Cosby outline the construction phases.

Plant construction is spread out over at least 16 phases, with some work already going to bid.

The Giti tire plant is a design-build project in which the design and construction services are contracted by a single company. Many firms use design-build because it offers more flexibility and can be cost-effective. In the design-build process, changes can be made quickly, and contractors usually turn to someone they know to make the changes.

“They are more apt to call you over someone they don’t know,” Eller said, which is why he made the drive to Richburg, to make the connection with Cosby and others.

Some of the potential subcontractors were smaller, local firms.

Melvin B. Jackson owns MB Jackson Masonry of Chester. He is a second-generation mason, learning the trade from his father Columbus Jackson, who owned the business for 50 years. Melvin Jackson, 57, took over the business in 1991 after a brief professional basketball career in South America.

MB Jackson Masonry has worked for contractors in York and Chester counties. When Giti announced its plans last year, Jackson wasn’t sure if he would bid on the tire plant work. After all, the various phased contracts are beyond what the usual mom-and-pop contractor can handle.

Still, Jackson stood in line to shake hands with Cosby, to exchange business cards and to talk a few minutes of business.

“You never know unless out find out,” Jackson said of his meeting. “It is important to get on the bid list; you can’t ask for no more.”

Cosby said he was impressed with the turnout.

“Everyone here had a purpose,” he said.

Cosby also was impressed that businesses of different sizes showed up. Yes, many of the contracts will go to larger firms, he said, but it is also possible that he would have a small project that would be better handled by someone such as Jackson.

Giti and Shimizu North America say they are committed to hiring as many local workers as possible. Brad Cole Construction, the Carrollton, Ga.-based firm that graded the site, came with its own core crew, Cosby said, but hired 20 to 40 local operators to help them.

With site work almost finished, the next step will be pouring the foundations and floor – more than 60,000 cubic yards of concrete. So much concrete means whoever gets the contract likely will set up a small “batch” plant on-site, Cosby said.

The walls, roof, utilities and tire-making equipment follow. If all that work stays on schedule, the plant should open in early 2017.

When the first passenger or light truck tires roll off the production line, their destination will be auto retailers across the United States and Canada. Giti tires are sold in 6,500 stores in the United States and 740 in Canada.

Giti also hopes it can earn a share of the original equipment market, selling tires directly to automakers.

And, if everything goes according to plan, Giti officials have hinted the Richburg plant could even “launch new products.”

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