STARR - The first massive Michelin Earthmover tire is about to roll off the assembly line at the tire maker's new Anderson County plant.
Michelin officials celebrated the completion of the plant in Starr on Thursday. The 12-foot tall, 5-ton tires are some of its most in-demand products for heavy equipment in mines, quarries and construction sites, with company officials saying they are often sold before they are produced.
While the France-based company is building plants all over the world to make passenger and truck tires, including China, India and Brazil, the company tries to concentrate the manufacture of specialty tires, said Pete Selleck, Michelin North America chairman and president.
Michelin has another Earthmover plant in Lexington.
"We've had such success with that plant, we have a critical mass here," Selleck said. "It made sense to just add on."
Eighty percent of the tires made in Anderson County will be shipped overseas, with most of them heading out on ships from the Port of Charleston.
Selleck said Michelin is taking a long-range approach in building the new plant, pointing out there is room for expansion over the next decade or more.
"Even in the Great Recession, we saw an increase in these tires because these tires help boost productivity of the mines," Selleck said.
The plant should start production on the tires in January and have the first ones ready to sell by summer.
The 800,000 square-foot plant is part of a $750 million project that should create 500 new jobs at the new plant in Starr and an expansion of an existing Earthmover tire plant in Lexington.
Nine of Michelin's 19 North American plants are in South Carolina. The company employees more than 8,000 people across the state.
Michelin's expansion was part of a sudden expansion of the tire industry across South Carolina.
Continental Tire's new $500 million plant in Sumter County is expected to open in early 2014 and the company has said it will have 1,700 workers when finished at the end of the decade.
Bridgestone Americas Inc. is spending $1.2 billion on a new plant in Aiken County and expansion of an existing facility that should end up with 850 workers.