Jefferson County and Mt. Vernon are celebrating 200 years in 2019, and many businesses in the community are celebrating milestones as well – including the biggest employer in Jefferson County – Continental Tire.
Continental Tire is celebrating 45 years in their Mt. Vernon location.
When the factory was built in 1974 it was owned by General Tire. Jefferson County residents began applying and working before construction was even complete.
“I filled out an application when I was 18, I was 18 on March the 4th,” said Robert Irvin Jr., a Nason native who has worked at Continental Tire for 45 years. “I came in for an interview in April – took off an afternoon class to come out here for an interview – then came back again in May. I’ve got my original letter dated August 22 offering me a job. My first day was September 4.”
Irvin was number 58 when he started at General Tire in 1974. Now he’s number two in the plant.
When the plant was built there were 40 acres under-roof. In 1988 they began expanding by adding on for truck tires, and in 2008 construction began for what now consists of 120 acres under-roof.
Sam Higdon came from the Mayfield, Ky., Continental Tire plant to Mt. Vernon in 2005. He was set to retire in Kentucky, but when the company asked him to relocate to Mt. Vernon he couldn’t say no.
“I know a lot about tire manufacturing, that’s all I’ve done my adult life,” Higdon said. “And I’ve been very fortunate to work for a very good company starting out … Continental is a great company, and this manufacturing plant [in Mt. Vernon] is second-to-none in the world.”
The company has inspired many long-term and loyal employees through the years due to good working conditions, and of course, good compensation. Irvin said he could have retired already as well, but life at the company was too good to give up.
“All the years I’ve been here, I can’t complain about anything truthfully,” Irvin said. “They’ve always treated people pretty fair. After 45 years if they didn’t, I wouldn’t still be here.”
In addition to working at Continental Irvin has been a road commissioner for Elk Prairie Township for 10 ½ years. He and his wife have been married 45 years, and they love to travel, camp and have visited 39 states on a motorcycle. He said thanks to the company they’ve been able to enjoy life and send their daughter through college.
Continental is the largest employer in Jefferson County with 3,667 employees currently working at the Mt. Vernon plant. Since 2009 they have gone from a $17 million company to a $47 million company, and according to Higdon that wouldn’t be possible without the quality employees they hire.
“When you walk the floor of this factory, you’ll see ordinary people,” Higdon said. “Some of them have been here three years, some of them 40 … and I guarantee you they know what they’re doing. When you start questioning them about their jobs and what they do, you’ll find out that they are focused on doing it right, and that they understand that we’re making tires. The people extruding the threads understand that the only thing that keeps this big ship afloat is putting good product in the warehouse.”
From 1,000 employees to nearly 4,000, one plant to four, the company has grown and flourished over the years. Since Continental bought the factory in 1987 growth has been exponential.
“When I started in curing, which is where I started at originally and I’m still there, we had three curing presses running, and now we’ve got over … just in passenger there’s 200-some,” Irvin said. “We’ve got what they call plant 2, plant 3 and plant 4, and I don’t even know how many presses they have. To me, the company’s got a lot of faith in Mt. Vernon to keep building on here, because of the people in this area.”