South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster Visits Giti U.S. Plant
Rubber, meet road. Giti Tire, meet Gov. Henry McMaster. And just like where the rubber meets the road and the proof of any tire is how it performs, Gov. McMaster met with Giti Tire officials and got a tour of the plant in Chester County on Monday and got the proof of their recent accomplishments and their plans for the future.
It’s been two years since Gov. McMaster toured the plant and a lot has changed since then. For one thing, some planned automation has been put into place with the installation of some new equipment and a promise of more to come, being ordered from manufacturing companies worldwide, such as those in Germany and Japan, to name but a few.
Before the tour, Chester Giti Tire Plant Manager Hank Eisenga said “this is an important day for Giti Tire. We once again have the opportunity to have the Governor visiting this plant. It’s been two years since he visited; we think we have made significant progress and wanted to give him an opportunity to see that progress. We’re excited about not only showing him the plant and the number of people we have and the accomplishments we’ve made, but also where we’re going to take this plant in the future,” he said.
He said the plant has new tires coming on line all the time (another product is expected to be launched in the spring – the Governor in fact got a sneak peek at this new tire).
Eisenga acknowledged there have been some challenges in the plant’s existence the past year or so, with demonstrations in front of the plant by union organizers from other areas and a pair of lawsuits filed against the company by two vendors.
“Challenges occur all the time, and that’s a normal course of business. We know we have a great group of employees here, we have a strong team at Giti Tire and we’re looking forward to continuing and growing that family stronger every day,” he said. At the time, Eisenga said of the union activity, “The team members in Richburg understand how important it is for us to work together and focus on our operations in order to have a successful startup. We really don’t have the time to waste on distractions by third parties.”
Eisenga put the presence of Giti Tire in Chester County in perspective.
“We’re excited about being here. When you think about a 1.7 million square foot building that’s occupied every day by employees from Chester County and the surrounding areas, it’s an exciting opportunity for us.”
Eisenga served as Governor McMaster’s tour guide as they walked through the plant, along with Giti Tire International R&D Executive Director Phang Wai Yeen. Together the two of them provided the real-time commentary that was heard through headphones by everyone on the tour.
Following the tour, the governor provided The N&R his impressions on what he had seen and heard.
“This plant is fantastic and they’ve advanced so much – they started manufacturing bicycle tires in 1951 in Indonesia when the company name was Gajah Tunggal. It’s a fine company, fine people, Great South Carolinians working in here. The strength of our state is our people: they work hard, they’re smart and when they give their word, they keep it. That’s why we have so much investment from the places outside of our state as well as our country. They all tell me that the people of South Carolina are different, and they like that difference. They’ll work and they do what they say,” Gov. McMaster said.
The rural nature of Chester County is one of the selling points, the governor said.
“People can live in a rural area and still have a great, high-tech, happy, well-paying job. We don’t want every place to be Downtown, because here, there’s beauty, there’s peace, there’s comfort, there’s animals and farmland (we’re greatly an agricultural state). We don’t want to pave the whole state: having the diversity of places that we have with the mountains in the upstate and oceans and the shores and the rivers, means we have it all. And we’re going to keep it all, and we’re going to get stronger and stronger because of the people that attract this kind of investment,” Gov. McMaster said.
Following the tour, Giti officials and local elected officials and other stakeholders met for a Q&A about the things Giti Tire has been involved in, like international racing, how the new automated machines are a part of Giti’s success but how a more important part is its people and they answered some questions about what’s ahead for the tire manufacturer.
Eisenga said, “racing has become a big part of what we do and Phang Wai Yeen (whom everyone calls “Mr. Phang”) has become a critical part of that.”
Phang continued, “a lot of people think motorsports is my hobby, but it is also a reflection of our technical competency and a reflection of our mindset. We dare to challenge. We supply tires to Formula 3 racers in Asia, we participate in 24-hour racing in Europe, and we always say though we are able to do the activities the top tire companies in the world do, but we are considered a ‘new kid on the block.’ What we have done (on the racing circuits) is to show you our ambition, the same ambition for this plant that’s starting up. It’s a never-ending journey, putting the place together, building the workforce and putting in the infrastructure is only the beginning; the key is the workforce, to take this workforce to maturity. Once this workforce reaches maturity, then the sustainability of this plant will be there,” he said. He added that the Giti personnel are not the only stakeholders in the company, that all of the community stakeholders have a share in the future successes of the plant, and those successes mean a lot to the community.
Touching on the highly-automated nature of the plant, Phang said, “Automation is not about doing away with jobs. Automation replaces the tedious jobs, and takes the human element and places them in a more amicable type of job, because the need for labor will never be enough. Automation means improvements in productivity, but automation doesn’t mean the factory will not create jobs. But because of automation, the factory is going to create demands for something else: a different skillset. With automation, you need a lot of electricians, a lot of what we call ‘automation engineers,’ a lot of technicians. There’s a mix of skillsets needed in a plant like ours where we’re moving towards automation. It’s just jobs at a different level, a different requirement of those skillsets. Because of the demand this plant has for those different types of skillsets (ones that the industries around here have never seen before) over time, it will begin to pull talents from other places to Chester,” he said.
“What we have seen over the last six or seven months from the job applicants that we see, a lot of people are coming home, they are looking for jobs nearer to their homes. Many of them told us they moved farther from home because there weren’t so many job opportunities,” Phang said. “Now they are looking here and seeing there is a sizable plant that can use their skills,” he said.
Asked about what’s in the next year for Giti Tire, and Eisenga responded, “The sky’s the limit. Where do you want to go? We have crates of equipment sitting out there; we have new tire machines coming on line. We need to continue to ramp up, utilize what we have and time the (placement of) new equipment so that we can ramp up effectively and meet whatever demands we have in the marketplace,” he said.
During his visit Governor McMaster actually touched the treads on the new tire product that will be launched nationwide in Spring 2020.
Phang said also exciting is the Formula Drift-style racing tire used in the drift racing series around the world will be made right there in Chester.
Reprinted with permission from The News & Reporter