LAWTON/FORT SILL, Okla. (March 13, 2002)-Voters in Comanche County, Okla., approved a sales tax increase March 12, completing a funding step for a modernization project at Goodyear's Lawton/Fort Sill passenger tire plant.
The five-year, quarter-cent tax hike—approved by more than 68 percent of the voters—is slated to generate $8.5 million for local economic development, $3 million of it earmarked for the Goodyear project. The new tax goes into effect June 1, and Goodyear will start the $125 million first phase of modernization/expansion at the facility later this year, a company spokesman said.
Arty Staehla, plant manager at the Lawton/Fort Sill tire factory, said he was “absolutely thrilled and very appreciative of the support of the community. A victory of this magnitude certainly demonstrates our community's continued commitment to its partnership with Goodyear.”
The Akron tire maker plans to commit about $250 million over the next four to five years and add about 100 jobs to the 2,300-employee, non-union work force. The first phase should be completed in 18-24 months, and the second phase would be started and completed via an appropriate timetable, Goodyear said.
The Goodyear board of directors, however, has approved only the first phase, the spokesman said.
Oklahoma legislators are considering a state bill that could produce additional funds for the Goodyear project. Legislation was approved by the state House in February and currently is in a Senate committee, the spokesman said.
The modernization at the Lawton/Fort Sill plant would primarily include new tire building and curing equipment for producing tires in rim diameters of 17 inches and larger. While still a fraction of the total market, demand for tires in the 18- to 20-inch range is expanding at a rate 10 times greater than the market itself, according to John G. Loulan, Goodyear vice president of operations, manufacturing and supply chain.
About 85 to 90 percent of the facility's tire output is for original equipment accounts, Loulan said.
The project will include a 175,000-sq.-ft. expansion to host a new production line based on Goodyear's Impact—Integrated Manufacturing/Precision Assembled/Cellular Technology—system, as well as 325,000 square feet of warehousing space. The facility spans more than $1.8 million square feet.
Production from the Impact line could start within five to six months. When the line is up and running, Goodyear can begin replacing other lines so it won't disrupt capacity. The plant's total capacity of 65,000 tires per day should not change much, but the addition of larger tires to the mix will increase tonnage processed by about 10 percent, Loulan said.