NORMAL — One of Bloomington-Normal's biggest employers is expanding.
The Bridgestone Americas tire plant at 1600 Fort Jesse Road in Normal, which employs about 400 workers, will add 30 employees through a $12 million investment, the company announced Tuesday.
"The plant will produce multiple sizes and patterns in 29, 33 and 35-inch (off-the-road) tires, which until now have only been produced by Bridgestone in Japan," according to the company.
The plant manufactures radial and bias tires used in above-ground coal and oil sand mining and other types of heavy industry work such as construction. The facility expanded with a $19.5 million project in 2013 and a $27.3 million project in 2014.
"The addition of the three tire sizes to the Bloomington production line combined with our Aiken County, S.C., (plant) allows us to support North American customers with regional supply of our key products,” Bridget Neal, president of off-the-road tires for Bridgestone Americas, said in a news release.
Production of new tires in Normal is expected to start this year, and the expansion will wrap up in late 2019 or early 2020, said a Bridgestone spokesperson.
Normal Mayor Chris Koos said the announcement is "great news" and reinforces that McLean County is a manufacturing hub. American Precision Assemblers, the Brandt Group of Companies and Rivian Automotive have brought new manufacturing jobs to the community in the past two years.
"Bridgestone has been pretty aggressive about this plant and this community, and we appreciate that," said Koos. "We're fortunate here that we've got Bridgestone doing what they're doing, Brandt coming in, Rivian."
Koos said he's not aware of any public incentives for the expansion. Mike O'Grady, interim CEO of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, said the company has gotten enterprise zone incentives, which can include exemption from state sales taxes on construction materials and investment tax credits, for other projects and might for the expansion too.
A company spokesperson later said not public funding is involved.
"It's great to hear. This is just one more example that McLean County is being recognized as a place for manufacturing," said O'Grady. "It says a lot about the quality of not only our workforce but our community."
O'Grady said he's not familiar with Bridgestone's thinking in doing the project, but he'd "be surprised" if it were related to tariffs. U.S. Steel cited new tariffs on imported steel as it announced new activity at a Granite City plant in June.
A Bridgestone spokesperson later told The Pantagraph the project is not related to tariffs.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, a Taylorville Republican who represents parts of the Twin Cities, said on Twitter the announcement was great news, and he hopes to help Bridgestone get trained staff to hire.
"I applaud one of Bloomington-Normal's largest employers for their continued investment into central Illinois," said U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, a Dunlap Republican who also represents Bloomington-Normal, in a statement.
"I have been able to witness firsthand the quality products that are made right here by the hard working members of our community. I am eager to see this expansion commence to allow for not only additional jobs, but for additional tires to be made here."
The plant, which had a "Now Hiring" sign posted outside on Tuesday, opened in August 1965 as Firestone. Bridgestone-Firestone, now Bridgestone Americas, bought the facility in 1994.