By Edward Noga, Crain News Service
AKRON (July 3, 2014) — It is positive news that Goodyear has decided to build a consumer tire plant somewhere in the Americas. I'll help the company with its site selection—build it in Akron.
Before you assume I'm living in a fantasy world, let me point out a few facts. The first is that this isn't an original idea. I got it from my neighbor, Blanche. She definitely is a realist, proven the time I was perched 25 feet up on a tree in my backyard, about to cut down the 25 feet above me with a chain saw while her husband Jack pulled on a rope to help guide it to the ground.
“Better get ready to call 911,” Jack said. “I already dialed 9-1,” Blanche replied.
See, a realist.
When she brought up the idea of Goodyear placing a factory in its home turf, I replied that no, won't happen, everything is built in the South or countries where wages are cheap and unions aren't a factor. Then I got to thinking about it—maybe it's not such an odd idea.
First of all, Goodyear does recognize the need to construct a factory somewhere relatively close to home, required by demand for high-performance tires in NAFTA and points south. What can Akron offer? Start with brains, lots of them.
The tire and rubber industry frets over the lack of young talent entering the business. Akron and the region are full of such prospects, particularly from polymer programs at the University of Akron and other nearby schools. Add to that the existing brain trust at Goodyear's headquarters and tech center in Akron.
There's real value in proximity to such smart folks. Sure, the digital age facilitates communication throughout the world, but it can't surpass the face-to-face conversations resulting from a plant located virtually next door. Goodyear even has a test track in Akron, so the company can try out all those neat products it is creating.
The Akron area, indeed, the Midwest, is home to many suppliers, and is in close proximity to the Detroit 3 auto makers and a short hop to automotive factories in the South. Solid infrastructure, particularly in terms of highways, rail, airports and worldwide shipping via the port of Cleveland, are present.
Willing workers? Akron has an educated work force and a lot of un- or under-employed people who would jump at a chance to work for Goodyear. Just as many of their parents did.
The days of union militancy are long past, and the United Steelworkers usually operate as a partner, rather than an adversary, with tire companies.
Finally, there's government support. Goodyear got a sweet deal from the city and state when it decided to stay in Akron and build a tech center. For a tire facility, the company can expect the same, or even better.
I know the chance is remote that Goodyear will build that plant in Akron. Then again, I survived that tree cutting incident, so sometimes the odds can be beaten.
Ed Noga, who admits to be an Akron resident and a “homer,” is a contributing editor of Rubber & Plastics News (RPN) and its former editor. He can be reached at [email protected]. This opinion column appeared in RPN, an Akron-based sister publication of Tire Business.