The closure of Michelin Dundee ends an important chapter in the history of manufacturing in the city.
Over almost 50 years the Baldovie Road factory in Dundee has employed thousands of people and made more than 300 million tyres that have been exported all over the world.
When a team from France toured potential sites for a new plant, the Baldovie site was farmland.
It was duly purchased for £157,400 and construction of the vast factory cost £4 million with the first tyre made on November 6, 1972.
Factory capacity was increased in 1978 and innovations in the industry became part of the Michelin ethos, including the revolutionary run-flat tyre produced in 1983.
One person who has seen many changes over the years is Jack Gibb – the last of the “day one” Michelin apprentices who is retiring today.
Mr Gibb, joined Michelin in 1971 before the factory was even built, initially attending the government training school in Staffa Place.
“Three of my class from Carnoustie School started at Michelin,” he recalled. “One of our teachers said Michelin were an up and coming company that would be good to work for.
“It was a lot of manual work in the early days. The technology has really improved over the years and it’s a lot less physical now.”
In the early 1980s the factory moved to a 24-hours a day operation and by the end of the decade, the site reached its peak employment with almost 1,500 workers.
The strong workforce put the Dundee factory in a good position to win the internal British football tournament, the winners of which travelled to compete in France.
By the 1990s, a focus on efficiencies and raising output levels come to the fore, with teams “upskilled” to make the factory more competitive.
The first threat of closure came in 2005 when management in France was persuaded to perform a u-turn on an instruction to shut the factory.
Three years later, the Dundee workforce was told Michelin would only keep one out of three factories. Again, Dundee raised its game and narrowly escaped the axe as premises in France and Italy were shut down instead.
Current factory manager John Reid, who was appointed in 2010, recalled: “When I took over, we were struggling and had survived for 15 years with little or no investment and the machinery was becoming outdated.
“At the start of the 2010s we achieved some outstanding performance improvements. We had gone from the back of the Michelin league table right to the front and that was all down to the efforts of the team.”
Impressed with the performance of Dundee, Michelin made investments totalling more than £90 million between 2014 and 2018.
“We built a new warehouse, we installed new machines, we recruited 200 people. We were ready towards the end of 2018 to step up and increase our volumes,” Mr Reid said.
“The difference this time was is that it wasn’t an internal competitivity issue. It was a complete shift in the European tyre market.
“Demand for premium smaller car tyres fell from 90 million to 50 million within two years as huge imports from the Far East that completely undermined the market.”
The workforce in Dundee assumed the huge investments would put the factory in a strong position for at least 15 years and were shocked by the closure announcement in November 2018.
Workers at the plant will have the opportunity to walk around the factory and say their goodbyes to colleagues and the site today.
Mr Gibb added: “I think the closure of the factory will be a day full of emotions.
“One of the things I’m going to miss is not coming back as a retiree and seeing the technology move on to another stage.
“I’m retiring at a good time and I’ve made a lot of good friends over the years,” he added.
“When I joined Michelin in the early 70s, I had long hair. Because of Covid, I’m also going to be walking out of the gate with long hair.”
Dundee City Council leader John Alexander led the tributes to Michelin.
He said: “The support offered to employees at the factory by Michelin and its partners since the closure was announced has been tremendous.
“It’s heartening to learn that so many have found solutions. I’ve no doubt that efforts will be unstinting to assist the remainder of their high-calibre, skilled workforce.
“Michelin has made a significant contribution to Dundee and its economy over almost half a century.
“While there’s inevitable, and understandable, sadness at the factory closure today, the innovation park which has been born out of it represents the beginning of an exciting new chapter in our partnership.”
Economy secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “This is undoubtedly a sad, emotional and poignant moment for the workers of Michelin Dundee and their families – and of course for the wider city.
“It is essential – perhaps more than ever before – that we support our skilled workforce, our innovation and manufacturing heritage, which is why I am pleased that the Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc continues to progress, providing, I am sure, a fitting and lasting legacy to the site and to the city.”
Alison Henderson, chief executive of Dundee & Angus Chamber of Commerce, added: “The workforce of Michelin have been a huge part of the business community of Dundee for a very long time, and the value and strength of the people has been very evident as we’ve seen them work towards the closure of the plant.
“Our thoughts and best wishes go out to everyone on what will be an emotional day.”
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