BLOOMINGTON, Ill.-Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. will spend between $5 million and $6 million to add production of Bridgestone-brand off-the-road radial tires at its recently acquired OTR plant in Bloomington. A small portion of the investment is earmarked to increase capacity by 25-30 percent for the 6-ton OTR tire used on giant front-end loaders. Robert J. McNally, president of the operation-named Bridgestone/Firestone Off Road Tire Co.-spoke of the company's plans during the unit's June 14 plant dedication.
Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar attended the ceremony and awarded the firm a $100,000 grant for the establishment of worker training programs.
The project, expected to be completed by early 1996, will boost employment at the facility to 400 by the end of 1994. Current employment stands at 350, following Bridgestone/Firestone's hiring of 60 additional workers in February, shortly after it acquired the facility from Edwards Warren Tire Co., Mr. McNally said.
Conyers, Ga.-based Edwards Warren bought the unit from Firestone in 1987, a year before Firestone was acquired by Bridgestone Corp.
Although the project doesn't call for a brick-and-mortar expansion of the 858,600-sq.-ft. facility, Mr. McNally left that option open for the future. ``There's a big cornfield out back. There's plenty of room to grow, and as our business grows, we'll grow accordingly.''
An upturn in the mining and construction industries triggered an increase in demand for OTR tires, a trend likely to continue for at least five years, according to the firm.
In 1993, the overall market jumped 5 percent after 5 years of decline, said Manny Cicero, executive director of sales, marketing and customer services.
So far in 1994, OTR sales have risen another 5 percent from last year. Mr. Cicero estimates Bridgestone/Firestone holds about one-third of the OTR tire market.
``This facility gives us the opportunity to take advantage of both segments of the market, (bias-ply and radial),'' Mr. Cicero said. ``It also allows us to regain marketing control of the entire Firestone brand of OTR tires previously licensed to Edwards Warren.''
The acquisition also enables the firm to meet all its U.S. OTR requirements domestically and avoid duties and unfavorable yen-to-dollar exchange rates.
Built in 1965, the Illinois factory has the capacity to produce 80-100 6-ton OTR tires a month. Increasing demand for the tires, which take three days apiece to build and cure, has caused orders to be placed on a four-month hold. The giant tire on exhibit for the plant dedication was set to be shipped to Chile after the ceremony.
The 113-acre Bloomington site has the capacity to produce 50,000 units annually but has been operating at about one-half capacity for several years, a company spokesman said.
When the tentative agreement was reached on the purchase last December, the facility had been averaging 2.5 million pounds of rubber output per month. The Nashville, Tenn.-based company expects to operate the plant at full capacity and consume approximately 6 million pounds of rubber per month by April 1995.