By and large, southern Oklahoma businesses and manufacturers have thrived despite the slowdown in the national economy. But that changed significantly Thursday when Michelin North America announced it planned to furlough 240 employees at its Ardmore tire plant for eight weeks beginning the second week of November.


By and large, southern Oklahoma businesses and manufacturers have thrived despite the slowdown in the national economy. But that changed significantly Thursday when Michelin North America announced it planned to furlough 240 employees at its Ardmore tire plant for eight weeks beginning the second week of November.


“The decision to reduce our production levels in Ardmore is in direct response to the economic downturn continuing to affect the demand for passenger car and light truck tires in both the replacement and original equipment markets,” Ardmore plant manager David Brenner said. “While any reduction is difficult, the temporary actions we are taking will lessen the impact on our employees and put us in a better position to respond when the economy improves.”


The Ardmore tire plant employs approximately 1,750 workers. Michelin North American spokesperson Lynne Slovick said the company’s other manufacturing facilities will face similar production cuts.


“Specific adjustments at the individual facilities will be determined by inventory levels and types of production,” she said.


Slovick said some Ardmore workers will be assigned to other jobs during the production slowdown.


“We care a great deal about our employees,” she said. “We are offering a variety of solutions for our employees to make sure we lessen the impact.”


The Ardmore tire plant contracts with Holland Employment, a local manufacturing outsourcing company, to provide additional workers at the facility. Slovick said she was unsure how those workers will be affected by the production cuts. Calls to Holland Employment Thursday were not returned.


Officials with Michelin North America said the demand for original and replacement tires had fallen significantly. Michelin North America’s headquarters is in Greenville, S.C.


Michelin announced earlier this week that it was making temporary workforce reductions at BFGoodrich plants in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Opelika, Ala., and Woodburn, Ind., because of decreased product demand.


Company executives warned Wednesday that an unexpectedly sharp decline in demand in most European and North American countries is on track to cause the French tire maker to miss its earnings target this year.


Michelin’s profitability has been squeezed by a steep rise in the cost of rubber and other raw materials it uses to make tires. The company said that while the prices of these commodities fell sharply in the third quarter, the effect wouldn’t be felt until the second quarter of 2009, due to the lag between the time it buys raw materials and sells the finished tires.


“The announcement comes as no surprise in light of the national economic downturn. The auto industry, in particular, is suffering and has closed plants, and the impact obviously trickles down to suppliers,” said Wes Stucky, president and CEO of the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce and Ardmore Development Authority. “Michelin’s slowdown is unfortunate but pales in comparison to plant closures that are occurring all across the country.


“The economic doldrums are starting to hit home in Oklahoma, thankfully at less extent than other parts of the country are experiencing,” he said. “However, it points out that we are not immune nor can we expect to be immune to a national economic downturn.”


The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Steve Biehn, 221-6546
steve.biehn@ardmoreite.com