Local, state and national dignitaries were in attendance at the groundbreaking for Firestone Industrial Products’ 68,000 square-feet expansion on Monday.
“Firestone Industrial Products has been a part of the Whitley County Community and a key team Kentucky player since it first opened its facility here in 1989,” said Governor Andy Beshear. “Already, Firestone Industrial Products employees more than 500 people. That means 500 families know where their paycheck is coming from and can provide opportunities to their kids and to their grandkids.”
“That is the type of security we like to see from our corporate partners, so while Firestone Industrial Products has already invested in the Commonwealth and our people, today we are taking it to the next level,” he explained. “We are actually standing on the ground where this new facility will be built. We are about to put shovels in the ground for what will be a $50 million expansion at Firestone Industrial Products Automotive Airsprings Manufacturing plant. When it is finished, which is expected to be in December 2022, this 375,000 square-feet facility is going to grow to 443,000 square-feet. Here’s the really great part – that extra capacity, this new addition, it going to create 250 new jobs for families in this community.”
Beshear’s sentiment was echoed by Congressman Harold ‘Hal’ Rogers, R-KY.
“The reason that you are here is this labor force. That is our top secret,” said Rogers. “Here in these hills, we have a secret, and that is people who want to work and who want to please you – the employer. Why? Because we want to stay here. The workforce in Kentucky is the key, and these 250 new jobs are going to be critical because it means that 250 families are going to get to stay in Kentucky.”
Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, described Firestone’s expansion as the “icing on the cake.”
“This is kind of like icing on the cake with whipped cream and a cherry on top because this is truly, not just historic for this region – the governor made mention of it – this is history in the making because our economy is changing.”
The expansion was spurred by the recent boom of electric vehicles. All of the speakers alluded to the historical moment that the Firestone Industrial Products expansion represents because it will be at the forefront of making products for the electric vehicle shift.
“This expansion has come about and was spurred mostly by the electric vehicle boom that we see going on right now,” said Wendy Goff, Firestone Industrial Products plant manager. “We have a couple of companies that we have been contracted by to supply them with air spring modules. We know that electric vehicles are heavier by nature, so our airspring helps with a smoother ride, smoother handling and also aerodynamics of the vehicle. It helps get better mileage and a smoother ride. That is what the expansion really started out for.”
Goff explained that airsprings are like suspension on a vehicle. They help with a better ride, evening out loads, and even help with aerodynamics because it can help raise or lower a vehicle.
The Williamsburg plant, which was purchased in 1988, is the only remaining U.S. Air Spring manufacturing plant. It is expected to produce more than 4.4 million airsprings in 2021.
President of Firestone Industrial Products Emily Poladian said, “The investment that Bridgestone is making in Firestone Industrial Products here is not just about that market changing, which it is and it is a great opportunity, but they’re making that investment here in Williamsburg and in this team because we believe in this team and they believe in this team.”
“Today, we celebrate the vitality and growth of this plant and this community, with new investment, new jobs and a physical expansion driven by growing demand for our products and, just as fundamentally, by this team’s commitment to delivering innovation and superior quality for our customers here and around the world,” said Poladian. “Our company and our Kentucky team have a vital role to play in the transformation of mobility brought forth by advanced electric vehicle systems and by key supporting technologies like our Firestone air springs and air suspensions.”
Stivers said that the Firestone groundbreaking will be a day he tells his great grandchildren that the flag has been staked because in five years the whole automotive industry will have seen a change that no one expected 15 years ago.
“This is a seismic shift in the automobile industry today. For all the good things going on in Whitley County, we now have the announcement that one of the major components is going to be located here,” said Stivers. “It is historic for this region, but this group today is part of the history of the world because this is truly the shift that is coming in the automobile industry. You are a big part of it.”