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The head of Dunlop Tire Corp. Wednesday downplayed rumors that its parent company will merge with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., spawning consolidations and cutbacks at some factories.

"Rumors are rumors," said Dunlop President and Chief Executive Officer P. David Campbell.

He said he does not expect Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. of Japan to merge with Goodyear. "The two companies want to look at opportunities where alliances can be formed, but I think their independence will be maintained. I don't see how a merger would make sense," Campbell said in an interview following ceremonies at the Town of Tonawanda plant that celebrated the company's 75th anniversary.

Sumitomo and Goodyear have already launched a test marketing agreement that involves the distribution of Dunlop products at some Goodyear stores in the United States and Mexico. In turn, Sumitomo is marketing Goodyear tires through its distribution system in Japan. Campbell did not elaborate on what future alliances he envisions.

Managers and laborers paused to peer into Dunlop's future and reflect on its roller coaster past. About 70 invited guests attended ceremonies and toured the facility where the corporation's first American-made tire rolled off the assembly line in 1923.

While speakers waxed nostalgic during a 45-minute presentation, much of the focus was placed on Dunlop's future in a rapidly changing industry.

Plant Manager Stephen J. Pauly said a $100 million investment by Sumitomo has produced a state-of-the-art facility that makes 11,000 tires a day -- 4 million a year.

"There may be a lot of old bricks in these walls, but we create something new and exciting every day," Pauly told local, state and federal officials who gathered in the plant off Sheridan Drive.

The most recent addition to Dunlop's product line will be added this spring when crews begin producing tires for all-terrain vehicles.

Campbell said he envisions a future paved with opportunity, predicting that the 1,400-member work force will remain stable over the next couple years and could increase by about 100 in future years.

Several speakers recalled the bleak days in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the tire maker was plagued by losses, inefficiencies and labor turmoil. Campbell said the lean periods tested the "fiber" of plant workers and managers.

"The rest of the tire industry had written us off as just another casualty in a competitive business," Campbell said.

Local officials lauded Dunlop for being a role model for improving labor-management relations, noting that the two sides charted a long-term agreement that has boosted efficiency. The corporation started turning a modest profit in 1996 after swimming in red ink for most of the preceding 10 years.

Speaking on behalf of workers, Steelworkers Local 135 President Robert J. Marino said the turnaround was tricky.

"The process of give-and-take resulted in the ratification of a very good contract between the company and rank-and-file members," said Marino, whose union represents about 1,000 hourly employees.

One of the highlights of the plant tour was a behind-the-scenes peek at North America's only production line for motorcycle tires. A press release proclaimed that "Buffalo is the motorcycle tire capital of the world," prompting town Supervisor Carl Calabrese to issue a friendly reminder that it should read "Tonawanda."

But Mayor Masiello was smiling nonetheless, noting that the Dunlop receptionist who greeted him at the front desk symbolizes the corporation's regional impact.

"When I walked in, she said 'You're my mayor. I'm a Buffalo resident!' Those are the kind of things I like to hear," Masiello said.

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