Macon’s Kumho Tire celebrates opening of its $450 million manufacturing plant

Kumho Tire Georgia grand opening in Macon

Macon's Kumho Tire manufacturing plant is expected to manufacture 4 million tires a year for passenger and light trucks.
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Macon's Kumho Tire manufacturing plant is expected to manufacture 4 million tires a year for passenger and light trucks.

Hundreds of people gathered Monday to celebrate Macon’s largest manufacturing plant to open in about 40 years.

Although the Kumho Tire Georgia plant has been making tires for a few months, a grand opening ceremony was held for the company’s first U.S.-based manufacturing plant. The facility will have the capacity of producing 4 million tires a year.

About 300 Kumho executives, state and local government officials and local business representatives attended the invitation-only event for the $450 million project.

“I express my deep appreciation for welcoming Kumho to Georgia,” said Park Sam-gu, chairman of Kumho Asiana Group. He thanked officials or their “unwavering support. ... We will always be mindful of giving back to the community. ... Our main objective is to be a beautiful company ... and create jobs.”

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal was among those welcoming the company to the state.

“A lot of us have been waiting for this day for a long time, and we are glad it is finally here,” he said. “The fact that Kumho chose Georgia is a testament to the automotive industry in Georgia.”

Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia in West Point began producing vehicles in late 2009 and as of March this year, it had produced its 2 millionth vehicle. In 2015, Mercedes-Benz USA announced that it would invest $74 million to relocate its headquarters to Atlanta.

“This is a red-letter day in Macon, Georgia,” said Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert, who also said some phrases in Korean. “We are thrilled and delighted to welcome you here to Macon. I want to congratulate the partnership that has worked diligently over the last eight years to make today a reality. ... This is the day we mark a transition ... of our commitment to meet your continuing needs day in and day out into the future.”

Cliffard Whitby, chairman of the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, said he was honored “by representing my hometown on this momentous occasion.

After the speeches, all major state, local and company officials gathered on stage and were given white gloves and scissors before cutting a ceremonial red ribbon. Then officials were led outside for the planting ceremony of three hackberry trees.

Jan Williams drove down from Atlanta to attend the event at the invitation of a client. He said the tire company would be able to supply tires to the automotive industry already in the state.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “This is just another element of what’s taking place around the Southeast. ... Atlanta is too congested, so I think it’s a great idea.”

Kumho, a Seoul, South Korea-based company, began construction in late 2014 of the more than 1-million-square-foot plant in the Sofkee Industrial Park off Ga. 247 in south Bibb county. The total square footage of the seven-building plant is equal to nearly 23 acres. The buildings sit on 130 acres in the industrial park.

4 million Tires to be made annually by Kumho in Macon.

The ceremony Monday culminated a plan that started eight years ago when Kumho announced plans to build the tire-making facility. Production was to begin the next year in October 2009. Then the economy went south, and plans were put on hold until 2014.

It is the company’s first manufacturing plant outside Asia, and it is expected to produce 4 million passenger and light truck tires a year. A tire will be made every 36 seconds, Human Resources Director Jim Frentheway told The Telegraph during a tour of the facility in February. About 100,000 tires can be stored in a huge, multilevel tower.

Human Resource Director Jim Frentheway talks in February 2016 about plans for the Kumho Tire plant in Macon.

Kumho Tire began making test tires at the end of 2015 and had hired about 340 people.

“We shipped our first two loads last week” to retailers, and the company is bringing in 59 more employees Tuesday, Frentheway said Monday after the ceremony. “There are (employees) driving an hour to an hour and a half, but the majority are local.”

Initially, the tires — which will be stamped “Made in the U.S.A.” — will be sold on the retail market and could be carried by Middle Georgia tire dealers, Frentheway said. But in eight to 10 months, the company expects to get the proper certification it needs to sell its tires directly to car manufacturers, such as Kia, Hyundai and Chrysler. At that time, it will no longer sell to retailers.

It is the largest manufacturing plant to open in Macon since Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. opened its 1.4-million-square-foot facility in the late 1970s. It closed in 2006 after the company merged with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco.

Linda S. Morris: 478-744-4223, @MidGaBiz