SUMTER, S.C. (WIS) - Continental Tire has announced plans to open a $500 million plant with between 1,600 and 1,700 jobs in Sumter County by 2017.
The plant will be located near Highway 521 South in a greenfield site near the county's Guignard Industrial Park, according to Continental executives who joined state and local officials Thursday afternoon at the Sumter Opera House.
Continental officials said the production capacity at the plant is expected to reach 5 million tires when the plant reaches full production levels in 2017. A second phase of the project is expected to bring the plant's capacity to 8 million units per year by 2021.

"Today's announcement further strengthens South Carolina's membership in the automotive club," said Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt. "This is also the fourth announcement this year involving the recruitment of 500 or more jobs."

The announcement is welcome news for Sumter County, which has an unemployment rate of 11.8 percent. "Somehow the word ‘big' just doesn't seem big enough," said Sumter Development Board Chairman Greg A. Thompson. "In a matter of a few short years, this new facility will go from an idea to one of the largest economic drivers in our community."

The state's Coordinating Council approved a $31 million grant for purchase of and improvements to the site.
The project was also awarded a $4 million federally funded Community Development Block Grant through Sumter County to offset costs associated with road and public infrastructure improvements.

Meanwhile, North Carolina officials are pointing fingers at each other over why they failed to land the deal.

Republican Senate leader Phil Berger on Thursday blamed the administration of Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue for losing the plant, saying the deal fell prey to pay-to-play politics. The Associated Press reported last week that the Brunswick County land proposed for the project was owned by a state legislator and Democratic donors who had given more than $52,000 to Perdue's campaigns.

North Carolina Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco says Perdue did all she could to secure the deal. Crisco says Senate Republicans are responsible for failing to support the more than $90 million incentives package sought by the company.
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Copyright 2011 WIS. All rights reserved. AP contributed to this report.