Czech Republic tire company migrates to the American heartland and the birthplace of tractors.
When the Winnegago manufacturing facility in Charles City, Iowa, closed in 2008, locals were left wondering who—if anybody—would occupy that site. Nobody could have guessed that four years later, it would be home to a European tire production plant.
But that’s exactly what happened. On April 26, Czech Republic tire manufacturer Mitas opened its newest radial farm tire factory in Charles City.
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Charles City Mayor James Erb, Mitas representatives and others were on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Company officials say it has already recruited 76 full-time employees, with a total of 237 employees expected to operate the facility by the end of next year.
"Today, the relationship between our countries is reaching a new phase," says Czech Republic ambassador Petr Gandalovic. "Opening the plant and creating a significant number of jobs represents a much stronger and longer lasting bond than any possible volume of imports."
Foreign relations notwithstanding, the company had several practical reasons to operate from Charles City. Its proximity to original equipment manufacturers such as John Deere, CNH, Unverferth, Kubota and local farmer customers made it a smart strategic location, according to Mitas officials. There is also a historical relevance—Charles Hart and Charles Parr coined the word tractor (by combining "traction" and "power") in this very town in 1903.
"We have the past of Charles City with the production of Oliver Tractors," Governor Branstad says, "and now the tractor tire plant that Mitas has chosen to locate here. You’re getting a very highly skilled workforce, and a state and community that is very committed to providing a hospitable environment to employees and new arrivals, and we think it is a great logistical location as well."
The site hopes to see full production capacity of 13,500 metric tons of tires per year by 2013, which is three years ahead of schedule. Mitas purchased the Winnebego facility in late 2010 and built an energy center, altered existing layout and installed production machinery. Pilot production began this month, with additional curing presses to be installed this summer through late 2013. By that time, the Charles City plant will manufacture a comprehensive range of tires up to 54" and 1,200 mm width for the U.S. market.
None of the new employees had prior training in radial tire production. Mitas sent six supervisors to the Czech Republic for several weeks of equipment training. Several Czech employees returned with the group, and on-the-job training continues.
"I operated six different curing presses when I went to the Czech Republic," says production manager Brian Wulff. "The people that trained me while I was over there actually are here now and are assisting me in training new people. One person can’t train so many people, so Mitas has this well thought out."
There are currently seven curing presses, and Wulff indicates there will be as many as 27 by the end of next year.
"There’s a lot of room for growth here," he says.
Brandstad says this growth is a testament to U.S. agriculture’s significance to the global economy. Chairman of Mitas’ parent company CGS Tomas Nemec agrees.
"In 1982, to say ‘Mitas Iowa’ would be an absolutely crazy idea," he says. "It wouldn’t be an idea at all. In 2012, it’s reality. Mitas is now an American-made brand."