Politics · May 27, 2021

Kentucky: Firestone Industrial Products to Expand Whitley County Facility

Frankfort, KY (STL.News) Firestone Industrial Products Co. LLC leaders plan to create 250 full-time jobs in Williamsburg with a $50 million expansion of the company’s automotive air springs manufacturing plant, a project that will benefit residents in Eastern and Southeastern Kentucky and help reinvigorate the state’s economy, Gov. Andy Beshear said today.

“As we continue to work toward a brighter future for all Kentuckians, I want to thank Firestone Industrial Products for its commitment to Whitley County, the Eastern Kentucky region and the commonwealth as a whole,” Gov. Beshear said.  “This company has been an important corporate partner in our state for decades, and this investment by Firestone in support of the emerging electric vehicle market ensures that will continue to be the case for years to come.  Thank you to the company’s leadership for furthering their commitment to Kentucky.”

The 68,000-square-foot expansion of the 375,000-square-foot facility is spurred by growing customer demand and new business, including an increased focus on electric vehicle parts.  Work on the expansion project is expected to be completed by December 2022.

Firestone opened its Whitley County operation in 1989, currently employs more than 500 people and produces approximately 4 million parts annually.

“With the increase in vehicle electrification, Firestone air suspension systems are in high demand among the most innovative and forward-thinking original equipment manufacturers globally,” said Emily Poladian, president of Firestone Industrial Products.  “Firestone air suspensions are optimally designed with electric vehicles in mind.  Compared to traditional coil spring suspensions, our air suspensions are designed to help improve the handling and comfort of heavier electric vehicles and can even help improve EV range by lowering the vehicle to help improve aerodynamics.  Advanced air suspensions are increasingly a ‘must-have’ technology on premium electric vehicles, and Firestone is committed to maintaining its leadership in this exciting and important market.”

Founded in 1936 and headquartered in Nashville, Firestone Industrial Products is a subsidiary of Bridgestone Americas Inc.  The company manufactures air springs and related products for commercial trucks and trailers, passenger vehicles including sport-utility vehicles and minivans, light trucks, motor homes, buses, agricultural equipment, rail and industrial applications.  Firestone operates two North American plants, a European office and technical center in the Netherlands, as well as international manufacturing facilities in Brazil, Poland, China and Costa Rica.

Since 2020, auto-related companies in Kentucky announced 36 new location and expansion projects expected to create 1,500-plus full-time jobs with over $360 million in announced investment.  More than 525 automotive suppliers and four automotive assembly plants currently operate in the commonwealth, employing over 100,000 Kentucky residents.

Firestone’s expansion is among four economic development projects Gov. Beshear is announcing today.  Cumulatively, today’s announcements represent nearly $273 million in investments that will bring 505 well-paying jobs to Whitley, Shelby, Hardin and Fulton counties, furthering the Governor’s commitment to broad economic development in every region of the commonwealth.

This expansion from Firestone enhances recent economic momentum in the commonwealth, as the state continues to rebuild following the effects of the pandemic.

Last week, Moody’s Analytics published a positive economic outlook for Kentucky.  The state’s recovery, Moody’s said, benefited from earlier reopening efforts and increased demand for manufactured goods over services.  The report also found Kentucky’s manufacturing industry outperformed other states since the national downturn last year.

Fitch Ratings earlier this month improved the state’s financial outlook to stable, reflecting the commonwealth’s solid economic recovery.  The state’s April sales tax receipts set an all-time monthly record at $486.5 million, as did vehicle usage tax receipts at over $64 million.

In March, Site Selection magazine’s annual Governor’s Cup rankings for 2020 positioned Kentucky atop the South Central region, and third nationally, for qualifying projects per capita.  The commonwealth also placed seventh overall in total projects, the highest of any state with a population under 5 million.

Whitley County Judge/Executive Pat White Jr., said the Firestone expansion represents continued success for the partnership between the company and the local community.

“Firestone has long been an invaluable part of Williamsburg/Whitley County as one of our largest industrial employers,” Judge/Executive White said.  “I am really excited to see this project move forward and for them to build on the proven success they have had in our community.  This investment should secure the continuation of that success for many years to come and the Whitley County Fiscal Court is proud to contribute.”

Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison expressed gratitude for the company’s commitment.

“We welcome and appreciate the investment and jobs that Firestone Industrial Products has brought to Williamsburg, and we are excited about their future growth with this announced expansion,” Mayor Harrison said.

Bruce Carpenter, executive director of the Southern Kentucky Economic Development Agency, said he is glad to see Firestone continue to be a major employer in the region.

“The Southern Kentucky Economic Development Agency is both pleased and grateful that Firestone Industrial Products has chosen to expand their Williamsburg/Whitley County manufacturing facility,” Carpenter said.  “They have remained a major corporate citizen in Williamsburg for many years and we look forward to their continued growth and success as they create additional new jobs for our region.”

To encourage the investment and job growth in the community, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority (KEDFA) on Thursday preliminarily approved a 15-year incentive agreement with the company under the Kentucky Business Investment program.  The performance-based agreement can provide up to $6.5 million in tax incentives based on the company’s investment of $50.89 million and annual targets of:

  • Creation and maintenance of 250 Kentucky-resident, full-time jobs across 15 years; and
  • Paying an average hourly wage of $29 including benefits across those jobs.

Additionally, KEDFA approved Firestone for up to $350,000 in tax incentives through the Kentucky Enterprise Initiative Act (KEIA).  KEIA allows approved companies to recoup Kentucky sales and use tax on construction costs, building fixtures, equipment used in research and development and electronic processing.

By meeting its annual targets over the agreement term, the company can be eligible to keep a portion of the new tax revenue it generates.  The company may claim eligible incentives against its income tax liability and/or wage assessments.

In addition, the company can receive resources from the Kentucky Skills Network.  Through the Kentucky Skills Network, companies can receive no-cost recruitment and job placement services, reduced-cost customized training and job training incentives.