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Dunlop Tire Corp. celebrated its 75-year-old roots in the Town of Tonawanda today, stressing the company's recent turnaround as speculation swirls about changes coming for the tire industry.

The company has had its "lean periods, through which the character of Dunlop's people and its own viability were tested," Dunlop President P. David Campbell said in prepared remarks.

His speech came at the company's factory on Sheridan Drive. Now headquartered in Amherst, the company started its U.S. operations at the Tonawanda location 75 years ago.

Today, the significance of Dunlop's approximately 1,400 obs to the local economy is reflected in the collection of dignitaries who spoke at the event, including Erie County Executive Gorski, County Legislature Chairman Charles Swanick and Tonawanda Town Supervisor Carl Calabrese.

The company started turning a modest profit in 1996, after losing money for most of preceding 10 years, officials have said.

Another recent sign of strength is the addition of a new product, tires for all-terrain vehicles, expected to add 100 jobs once production reaches full speed this spring, union officials said.

The ATV tires join the plant's existing production of tires for trucks and motorcycles. Dunlop makes automobile tires at its Huntsville, Ala., plant.

The anniversary will also show off the Tonawanda factory itself, which has been transformed from a dark example of the industrial old school to a modern work environment, a union official said.

"They've done wonders with it," said Robert J. Marino, vice president of Steelworkers Local 135, which represents about 1,000 of Dunlop's hourly workers. The combination of investment by Dunlop parent Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. and Steelworkers' elbow grease has put Dunlop back on track, he said. The company will stress its positive future with roadside banners and new advertising at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

But another shadow hangs over the company in the shape of production overcapacity throughout the tire industry, analysts say. A widely expected merger between Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. and Sumitomo could lead to consolidation and cutbacks at some tire factories, some workers fear.

Dunlop issued a statement to employees last month saying that it knows of no substance behind the merger speculation.

The guessing is prompted by Goodyear's announced plan to double its size within five years, a goal that would be all but impossible without acquisitions or mergers. Analysts point to Sumitomo as a prime candidate because of recent alliances with Goodyear.

In May, the two companies announced a joint marketing agreement that will put Dunlop tires in Goodyear stores, while Sumitomo will market Goodyear products in Japan. And in September, Dunlop and Goodyear announced plans to share their test track facilities.

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