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Bridgestone/Firestone may close Decatur, Ill., plant

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Bridgestone/Firestone (BFS) Inc. may permanently shut down its Decatur, Ill., tire manufacturing facility by the end of the year.

"Our tire plants are not running at capacity due to a number of factors including (declining) customer demand and an economic downturn," says John McQuade, division vice president of BFS' manufacturing operations.

"The most effective way to address this issue is to close one plant and raise production to levels nearing plant capacity at our other facilities."

The Decatur plant is operating at 50% capacity. Its closing would affect 1,500 employees.

"This is a necessary but painful step to ensure our continued financial health and viability," says Mike Gorey, BFS corporate controller. "It is not a cost issue. It's strictly a supply and demand issue."

"What we're doing is no reflection on the quality of our (Decatur) employees," McQuade says.

At full capacity, the Decatur factory makes 25,500 passenger and light truck tires a day, according to Modern Tire Dealer statistics.

BFS did not disclose where Decatur's production would be transferred if it closes.

Firestone units made at Decatur were part of the voluntary 6.5 million tire recall launched by BFS last August that is scheduled to wrap up by the end of summer.

The tiremaker has sent a "Six Month Notice of Potential Plant Closure" to the United Steelworkers of America, who respresent Decatur plant workers.

"According to the notice, if the plant closing takes place and if it proceeds on schedule, the effective date of closure will be no later than Dec. 31, 2001," say company officials.

As of right now, "a final decision remains to be made."

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