Kumho Tire president: ‘The wait is officially over’

mstucka@macon.comSeptember 5, 2013 

The president of Kumho Tire North America said Thursday the company never wavered from its commitment to build a tire factory in south Bibb County.

“I am here today to deliver some great news on behalf of the Kumho Tire Co.,” said President Harry Choi. “There’s a famous saying that goes, ‘Sometimes the best things in life are worth waiting for.’ Well. I’m here to tell you the wait is officially over.”

The formal announcement, made at Central Georgia Technical College’s Macon campus Thursday, says Kumho will employ more than 300 workers at its $225 million facility in the Sofkee Industrial Park.

The project was first announced in 2008, but it stalled, with officials citing economic difficulties. Choi said he’s certain the factory will be funded, but construction won’t start for about two more years, possibly in August 2015. The factory could begin production in late 2016, he said.

Choi said the company is in a “workout situation” with creditors but should graduate from that process next year. The company has been working with its creditors to reschedule its debt, according to reports by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

Local officials were ecstatic by the announcement that the project is being revived. There’s a potential for the Kumho plant to expand as well. Choi said the plant initially would begin producing about 3 million tires per year, but could reach the ability to make as many as 10 million tires a year.

Pat Topping, senior vice president of Macon Economic Development Commission, said the company will bring “good manufacturing jobs,” although salary information was not available.

Topping doesn’t doubt Kumho’s commitment.

“We feel very confident that the company is in a position to build this facility,” he said.

Topping said agreements include items to indemnify the community, but something akin to another Great Recession could still stall the project.

In Thursday’s ceremony, officials stressed the idea of a partnership.

Cliffard Whitby, chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, said any good partnership has ups and downs.

“Kumho being here today is an indication that the work that started in 2008 continues today,” he said.

Whitby also spoke about local changes such as complications from consolidating Macon and Bibb County.

“Sometimes we get cynical as it relates to the way things operate and the way things work,” he said. “But this is also testimony to this community being able to do the right thing for the right reasons.”

Kumho has 150 acres in the Sofkee Industrial Park off Ga. 247, with an option on another 30. The plant will take up less than half the space available in the park.

The 2008 plans called for about 450 jobs. The facility is now said to bring more than 300 technicians, researchers, tire makers and distribution experts.

The company plans to make passenger tires largely for car manufacturers. Choi said the Bibb County factory site was selected partially because of the proximity to car manufacturing plants. Kia has a plant in West Point, and Hyundai has a plant in Montgomery, Ala.

Local property taxes for the plant will be phased in over 20 years, which had been valued at $17 million. Topping said that millions of dollars in taxes will be collected.

“If you didn’t have the project, you wouldn’t have collected any taxes. It’s not like you’re giving up something,” he said.

A state grant helped prepare the site and will provide for Quick Start training through Central Georgia Technical College. Topping said the latest agreements parallel agreements made five years earlier.

Topping said new tire plants are modern and fairly clean, with minor air pollution and no water pollution.

In his announcement, Choi said, “I want to thank you for your patience and your loyalty to Kumho Tire. ... Macon has been a great partner, and we look forward to many more years of success together.”

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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