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South Carolina vying to land S. Korea tiremaker’s factory

Gov. Nikki Haley and officials from Continental Tire broke ground on the company’s $500 million plant in Sumter County in March 2012. The first phase is scheduled to open next year. (AP/File)

South Carolina is one of at least three Southeast states trying to flag down a big tire-making factory.

South Korea’s Hankook Tire Worldwide said this weekend is planning to build a U.S. manufacturing plant to meet increasing global demand, according to news reports.

“We are in talks with three U.S. states — Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia — to build a plant and we will decide the final site by the end of this year,” CEO Cho Hyun Shick told Reuters news service at a press event in Seoul.

Specific sites were not disclosed.

The factory would start out by making 5 million tires a year and gradually double its annual production. It would target demand in developed countries.

Bloomberg News reported that Hankook recently secured deals to supply tires to Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Nissan Altima sedans, and that the company also is doing more business with Toyota.

The number of jobs at the proposed U.S. factory was not discussed, but Continental Tire has said it would require 1,600 workers to make 8 million tires year at a plant it’s building in Sumter County.

That deal and others have made South Carolina a major player in the industry.

The Palmetto State overtook Ohio to become the nation’s No. 1 tire exporter last year, and some experts have predicted it could pass Oklahoma as the nation’s top manufacturing site.

Several major projects are under way.

Michelin announced last year plan to expand its Earthmover plant in Lexington County and build a factory to make four-ton tires for heavy construction equipment in Anderson County. Those two deals are expected to add 750 jobs.

Continental is putting a $500 million plant in Sumter that will grow to 1,600 employees by 2021.

Bridgestone is investing $1.2 billion to expand its Aiken County operations and add 850 workers to its payroll.

In Charleston area, importer Tire Kingdom has built a large distribution center near Summerville.

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