As tough a move as it was, the Tire Industry Association (TIA) made the right decision to close the Louisville, Ky., training center that once served as the headquarters of the former International Tire & Rubber Association (ITRA) and its predecessor, the American Retreaders Association.
The reality is that fewer than 1,000 retread plants operate in the U.S. today and the majority of them are part of a national program. As a result, there's little demand for the retread training programs the multi-million dollar Louisville training center was designed to provide. In fact, the facility had not hosted a retread training event in several years.
What's more, the site was home to only a handful of full-time employees-too few for an association that reported a deficit of $728,000 in 2003.
Looking at these realities, any business person would come to the same conclusion: the facility needed to be closed and sold.
That said, TIA now needs to make it perfectly clear how it intends to support its 756-retreader members.
Symbolically, at least, the closing of the Lousiville site ends an era in retreading. For 45 years, the city has served as the home base for the retreaders' national organization.
With that fast becoming a memory and with ITRA now merged with the former Tire Association of North America to create TIA, the new group's focus on retreading can easily get pushed aside by more pressing issues.
TIA must take steps to ensure this doesn't happen, and it must continue to provide valuable programs if it wants to retain and bolster its retreader membership.
For one, TIA must keep intact the valuable retreaders product liability coverage it currently offers. As one independent retreader explained: ``I don't know where I'd go for product liability insurance on retreading if that program were to disappear.''
TIA also should review how much technical and hands-on information its retreader members need. One of the hallmarks of the former ITRA and its predecessor was this technical focus, another valuable resource to members.
It may be that today's independent retreaders require less technical information and more general business help, but TIA should determine this and develop its offerings accordingly.
In shuttering the Louisville facility, TIA also should take care not to indiscriminately throw away the association's history. Too often, this is what happens when someone who doesn't appreciate the past is in charge of cleaning out files. Understanding the past often helps make sense of the present and serves as a guide for the future.
The Louisville center is gone, but the retread industry still needs the strong support of its national association.