BFNT may close Oklahoma City plant

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Bridgestone Firestone North America Tire LLC (BFNT) may close its passenger and light truck tire plant in Oklahoma City, Okla., at the end of the year.

BFNT has delivered a “Notice of Potential Plant Closure” related to the facility to representatives of the United Steelworkers.

BFNT officials say "global market forces have made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to restore the plant to a competitive position, even with significant new capital investment.

No final decision has been made. If BFNT decides to shutter the plant, date of closure will be on or about Dec. 31, 2006.

"In general, the tire industry in the United States is facing a number of serious economic issues," says Steve Brooks, vice president of manufacturing operations for BFNT.

"Significant among them is fierce competition from low-cost producing countries, which has made it very difficult for U.S.-based production facilities to manufacture tires at a profit.

"We have a difficult challenge in Oklahoma City," he continues.

"While competition is intense in all product segments, it is especially so at the low-end of the market, where demand is also shrinking. These are the types of tires the Oklahoma City plant is equipped to make.

"Even with substantial new capital investment, market forces make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the Oklahoma City plant to be globally competitive.

The Oklahoma City plant can produce more than 40,000 passenger tires and some 8,000 light truck tires per day at full capacity, according to Modern Tire Dealer research. It employs more than 1,420 people.

"This has been a very difficult decision to make, especially in light of our nearly 40 years’ presence in Oklahoma," says Brooks.

"The step we announced today was taken only after serious consideration of our alternatives. The appropriate union officials -- as well as government and community leaders -- have been contacted to explain the situation at the plant.

"We have held and are continuing to hold meetings with our plant teammates as well."

Union representatives say they will "explore every available option" to keep the plant open.

"We recognize that long-term demand for the Oklahoma City product line is shrinking and that the competition from imports is vicious," says United Steelworkers Executive Vice President Ron Hoover.

The current labor contract between the union and BFNT prohibits plant closures, according to Steelworkers, but it expires this July.

"This announcement amplifies the need of our elected officials to closely examine the trade policies that allow American industries to be destroyed by the flood of cheap imports," says Hoover.

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