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Sumitomo invests $56M in tech center

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KOBE, Japan (Aug. 31, 2009)—Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. (SRI) is building a $56 million tire technical center at its Kobe headquarters as part of its 100th anniversary celebration this year.

The 86,000-sq.-ft. facility will replace a smaller center when it opens later this summer. It will be powered by "clean energy" generated by wind power, solar power and biomass that can help reduce CO2 emissions, SRI said, as well as a rooftop garden and other amenities to improve the working atmosphere.

Sumitomo said the upgraded tech center will help it accelerate the development of eco-friendly products such as tires that are free of fossil resources and tires with a 50-percent reduction in rolling resistance.

SRI also has established a manufacturing training center at its Shirakawa, Japan, plant, where the company will train the next generation of tire workers, tapping into the knowledge and expertise of a generation of employees nearing retirement age.

The center also will serve to introduce workers from plants outside Japan to SRI's corporate culture and philosophies.

Sumitomo Rubber was founded in Kobe in October 1909 by Great Britain's Dunlop Rubber Co. Ltd. as Dunlop Rubber (Far East) Ltd. Production of bicycle tires and tubes began in 1910, and in 1913 the firm produced Japan's first automobile tires.

With the exception of the years during World War II, Dunlop Rubber had an ownership role in the company until 1960, when Sumitomo Group acquired control, changing the firm's name to Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. in 1963.

In 1981 Sumitomo set up a business alliance with Ohtsu Tire & Rubber Co. Ltd., and in 1983 turned the tables on Dunlop, buying the then-struggling British firm's European tire assets. In 1986, it also bought Dunlop Tire Corp. in the U.S.

In 1999 it sold a 75-percent ownership stake in the European and U.S. tire manufacturing assets to Goodyear, a partnership that continues today.

It used the proceeds of that sale to help it expand its presence in Asia, building plants in China, Thailand and Indonesia.

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