The Rubber City, once synonymous with tire building, will be getting a new tire factory apparently for the first time since Franklin D. Roosevelt was president.
Bridgestone Americas this summer will begin construction of a new Firestone plant near its Akron technical center. The plant will make tires for IndyCar open-wheel racing.
One local historian says it likely will be Akron's first new tire plant since at least World War II.
The specialized factory eventually will replace the company’s race tire plant at the nearby former Firestone complex, now owned by the city, that will be turned into an industrial park.
The new factory is expected to begin making its first tires for IndyCar in 2020, said Nashville-based Bridgestone Americas, which owns the Firestone brand. It will be constructed in part as a renovation and an extension of Bridgestone Americas test facilities near Firestone Stadium.
Bridgestone Americas made the announcement Wednesday morning at its technical center off South Main Street and also said it has agreed to a five-year contract through 2025 to make race tires for IndyCar, best-known for the iconic Indianapolis 500 race. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. drove his blue Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck from Indiana to take part in the Akron event.
“We are proud to announce plans to build a new state-of-the-art race tire manufacturing facility right here in Akron, Ohio,” said Cara Adams, chief engineer for Bridgestone Americas Motorsports.
“The advanced tire production center will be located across the street from Bridgestone Americas Technical Center,” Adams said. The technical center is home to Bridgestone Americas' race tire engineering team.
“This will continue our legacy of Firestone race tire manufacturing in Akron, a very strong relationship that dates back to the company’s founding in 1900,” she said.
Once the new plant is built, it will take about four years to transition full production from the current facility to the new one, Adams said.
The new factory is still being designed, she said.
About 50 people who now make Firestone Firehawk race tires in Akron will move to the new plant.
“It’s really great news,” said Jack Rocco, head of United Steelworkers Local 7 that represents the plant’s tire builders. More jobs may be created should the new Firestone plant get additional products to make, he said.
Wednesday’s news reflects the hard work done by USW current workers and also on the numerous tire industry retirees in the area, he said.
“We’re really thrilled with the announcement and with staying in Akron. I couldn’t be more proud of our membership,” Rocco said. “We’re just glad Akron is still on the map with building new tires for IndyCar. It keeps good jobs in Akron. It just keeps that long tradition of building tires here in Akron.”
Building design and cost were not disclosed. A company spokeswoman said additional details will be made public later this year and at a planned summer groundbreaking.
Sam DeShazior, Akron deputy mayor for economic development, said the city and Bridgestone Americas are discussing financial incentives for the new plant.
“There are opportunities for growth,” he said.
The announcement of the new Firestone plant is good news for Akron, said David Lieberth, former Akron deputy mayor and local historian. He said Akron hasn’t had a new tire plant built since at least World War II, and that many of the city’s mammoth tire factories, now either torn down or repurposed, were built in the 1930s and earlier.
“I think it will help rebrand us as a center for advanced manufacturing,” Lieberth said of the soon-to-be built plant.
Unser noted during the news conference that race drivers ultimately rely upon the best-built and best-designed tires for their cars, which regularly reach speeds of 200 to 230 miles per hour.
“I’m super excited about the announcement,” he said.
Firestone Firehawk tires are designed and built for specific race tracks, Unser said. And the design, technology and knowledge developed by building the race tires eventually translates into Firestone brand consumer tires, he said.
Bridgestone Americas' announcement about the Firestone tire plant is significant for Akron and its legacy of tire-making that dates back to the 19th century.
The last full-scale tire factory in Akron, General Tire’s Plant 1, shut down in 1982, marking the end of an era of Akron tire-making as companies moved production elsewhere. As the Beacon Journal noted in its "Wheels of Fortune" series in the 1990s, Goodrich in 1975 had stopped making passenger tires in Akron; Goodyear in 1978; and Firestone ended passenger-tire production here in 1981.
Bits and pieces of the tire industry remained and continue to this day.
While Firestone will continue to make IndyCar race tires at its soon-to-be-built Akron plant, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. also builds NASCAR race tires at part of that company’s Akron campus that includes its global headquarters and U.S. innovation center.
Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ