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Michelin chief: S.C. roads 'a disgrace'

Author: Chuck

Source: GSA Business

November 20, 2014

South Carolina’s roads are in such bad shape that the chief of Michelin North America thinks his company might have to consider other locations for expansion.

“The roads in this state are a disgrace,” Pete Selleck, chairman and president of Greenville-based Michelin North America, said in pointing out South Carolina has a $30 billion shortfall in road funding. “If that does not get solved then Michelin is going to have to look about further expansion in this state.”

Selleck offered his thoughts Wednesday during a recruiting trip at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business. The company held its first “Michelin Day” to deepen its relationship with the university and grow its talent pipeline.

Speaking to a packed lecture hall, Selleck listed a number of reasons why Michelin has liked doing business in South Carolina over 40 years. The company has become the state’s largest manufacturing employer with nearly 8,000 workers at its Greenville headquarters and seven plants, including two in Lexington County.

The company, which has its international corporate headquarters in Clermont-Ferrand, France, also has North American facilities in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma and the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.

While praising the quality of the workforce and technical college system in South Carolina, Selleck made it clear that funding the state’s road system is a top priority for the business community.

“We’re $30 billion behind on the road system,” Selleck said, citing a S.C. Department of Transportation study of funding needs for the next 20 years. “The ironic thing is that bad roads, which damage tires, are actually good for our business. But that doesn’t make any sense at all.

“They need to be fixed, and that probably means some combination of a gas tax increase and some other funding source are going to have to be found,” Selleck said.

Last year, the Legislature passed and Gov. Nikki Haley signed a bill that commits more than $600 million for building and repairing roads and bridges. It was the first increase in state funding for highways in nearly three decades.

Selleck said that wasn’t enough to fix the problem. “Right now, the whole funding thing is out of whack.”

Selleck made the comments in answer to a student’s question about the state’s growing tire industry, which includes Michelin, along with Bridgestone and Continental. Two other companies, Giti and Trelleborg, announced plans last spring to expand to South Carolina.

Selleck’s remarks also came on the eve of Michelin’s announcement that it would be manufacturing the “tweel,” an airless tire, at a plant in Piedmont. Initially, the tweel will be used mostly for industrial applications, Selleck said.

In the fourth quarter of 2013, South Carolina emerged as the nation’s No. 1 manufacturer of tires, rolling out more than 89,000 tires daily, according to the trade publication Tire Business.

The top reason for locating in South Carolina is the state’s workforce, Selleck said.

“They are hard-working. They are dedicated. They communicate extremely clearly,” Selleck said. “When we walk down the plant and there’s a problem, they will get right in your face and tell you exactly what they think. And if you come back a little later and there’s still a problem they will get right back in your face again and tell you what they really think. And they will also tell you, by the way, if you’ve solved a problem, they’ll tell you that, too.

“There’s a culture of very direct communication, which is a benefit in manufacturing.”

Reach Chuck Crumbo at 803-726-7542.

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