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Bridgestone Firestone wants a world-class tech center in the U.S.

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As its Akron Technical Center approaches its 97th birthday, Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire LLC says it needs a "world-class technology building."

Bob Handlos, vice president of materials and racing technology, says a core team has spent the last two years investigating ways to make that happen. He says the company has decided on three possible courses of action:

* renovate the existing building,

* build a new building in Akron, or

* build a new building in the Nashville area (where the company's headquarters is located).

"We're in the middle of discussions with government entities in both areas."

According to Handlos, there is no deadline on the decision, although he would like to have "all the data collected and crunched" by the end of May so he can make a recommendation to both Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc. and Bridgestone Corp.

If all goes well, a final decision may be made before the third quarter of this year.

The Akron Tech Center is one of five buildings that make up Bridgestone Firestone's Akron Complex. A little more than 1,000 employees work in the complex; slightly more than 600 work in the technical building.

The remaining 400 or so associates work in the Research and Development Center, IT Center, Firestone Polymers building and indoor tire testing center.

Handlos adds that officials from Summit County, Akron and Ohio "have been pro-active."

In a prepared question and answer statement, Bridgestone Firestone addressed a number of issues, which www.moderntiredealer.com is running in its entirety.

Q. What announcement are you making today?

A. Our company needs, and our first-class teammates deserve, a first-class technology building. We're reviewing and weighing all options to deliver it.

After reviewing proposals from a number of cities, we've narrowed our focus to two areas: Akron and Middle Tennessee. In Akron, our options include updating and extensively renovating the existing facility or building a new one. The other possibility is to build a new technology facility in the Middle Tennessee area.

We're in serious discussions now with officials in both areas. We're committed to finding a course of action that is best for our company and our teammates.

Q. Why now?

A. The current technology building is nearly 100 years old. In recent years, its exterior and interior condition has deteriorated.

Renovation and maintenance costs will continue to grow and become more unpredictable as the building grows even older. Our company is known for developing world-class products and technologies. Our teammates deserve to work in a world-class facility.

Q. What people/operations are housed in the facility?

A. There are many functional areas housed in the facility in addition to the engineers, scientists, designers and support staff that comprise our technical center group. These groups include legal, human resources, payroll and IT teammates. There are 629 teammates housed in the facility.

Q. Who will be involved in making the decision?

A. A core team is charged with the responsibility of gathering information, analyzing the company's and teammates' needs, interfacing with the various municipalities and making a recommendation to the senior management of Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire LLC (BFNT) and Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc. (BSAH). Ultimately it is the board of directors of each of those companies that will make the decision, based on the core team's recommendations.

In addition, due to the significance of this matter, Bridgestone Corp. 's board will also be involved.

Q. When will the decision be made?

A. We don't know yet, but our current timeline anticipates a decision in the second quarter of 2008. Of course, we will take as much time as we need to make a completely informed decision on a course of action that is best for our company and our teammates.

We'll communicate regularly as we move through the decision-making process in the coming months.

Q. When will construction begin or when would the relocation happen?

A. As of now, we are optimistic that construction would begin in 2010, to be completed by the end of 2011, assuming that we are looking at a new facility in either Akron or Middle Tennessee. A schedule for extensive renovation of our existing facility would be somewhat similar.

However, all these timetables may change as we gather more information about the project.

Q. Why would you consider leaving the company's birthplace?

A. Akron will always have significant historical significance to Bridgestone Americas, because this is where Harvey Firestone founded his tire and rubber company. We have had a presence in Akron for more than 100 years, and that will continue to be true no matter how this process concludes.

Constructing a new building here in Akron is certainly among the top options we're exploring, as well as extensively renovating the existing structure.

Q. How will this affect company financials?

A. Obviously, a project of this scope will be expensive, but we're committed to providing our teammates with the kind of technology building the company needs and our teammates deserve. We will be good stewards of our company's resources and make sure that the investment that is made will result in a positive change for our company and our teammates.

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