Tire giant leaves tread behind in Crook County

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

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PRINEVILLE — Les Schwab Tire Centers may be moving its headquarters from Prineville, but city leaders predict the departure will have fewer economic and cultural effects than might be expected for a city of 9,000.

Schwab built the company from a single store in Prineville five decades ago to 410 stores, 7,700 employees and $1.6 billion in 2006 sales. The move will leave 800 workers behind at the company’s tire-retreading, warehouse and distribution center, but 350 employees will head 35 miles south to Bend and a 120,000-square-foot office building that will be finished in 2008.

It’s not a devastating loss, says Prineville city manager Robb Corbett, because the city has tried to develop a broad economic base — including industry, tourism and the regional railroad — as Les Schwab has grown.

However, he and others in the region wonder how the loss of Les Schwab’s highest-paid employees will impact restaurants and other businesses. The company has acknowledged the potential consequences: Days after officials announced the move, Les Schwab gave Prineville a $50,000 grant for economic development.

As to the city’s identity, long tied to its famous resident, Crook County commissioner Mike Mohan thinks Prineville’s character will remain essentially the same. Much of the company’s top brass already lives outside the county and isn’t involved in the community.  

The move is a homecoming of sorts for 89-year-old Schwab, who reportedly spent much of last year in the hospital. (Company reps will not comment on the move or his health.) He was born in Bend in 1917, and graduated from high school there. But as his company grew, Prine-ville held his heart. In his 1986 autobiography, he wrote that any drawbacks of being headquartered in a small, isolated city had been offset by the quality of employees he found there.

“Les Schwab is really interwoven in the community,” says Corbett. “But they grew faster than Prineville did.”

— Abraham Hyatt


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