Belfast Telegraph

Bushmills whiskey maker linked with Michelin Ballymena site

By Margaret Canning

The owner of Bushmills whiskey may have plans for the site of tyre giant Michelin after the company shuts up shop in Ballymena, it has emerged.

Jose Cuervo - which bought the world famous distillery two years ago - may adapt the site for its own purposes when Michelin quits its Raceview Road factory in 2018.

Bushmills production is so far confined to the distillery in the historic village of Bushmills.

But the BBC reported that the whiskey maker is eyeing up the tyre giant's site.

And one DUP MLA said that the site of tobacco firm JTI Gallaher, which shuts in Ballymena next year, has also attracted visitors interested in setting up there.

Interest in the Michelin premises is good news for Ballymena, which stands to lose over 1,600 jobs and two manufacturing giants in the next few years.

When Michelin closes in two years, 860 jobs will go, while the closure of JTI Gallaher in the town next year will result in 800 job losses.

DUP North Antrim MLA Ian Paisley said JTI Gallaher's site on Galgorm Road had also received visits from companies interested in carrying out production on it.

He added: "I welcome the idea of any company expanding or opening in my constituency and I'd actively encourage anyone who's looking at either of these sites."

But he poured cold water on the prospect of Bushmills producing its whiskey in Ballymena.

He commented: "I know that Bushmills has already indicated that they'd wish to up production - but I don't think they would bring distilling anywhere else.

"The key thing is the water, and where they are in Bushmills is right beside the River Bush.

"But one possibility is that they could look at Michelin for storage."

Last year Bushmills filed a planning application for a new distillery facility in Bushmills which could double production capacity.

The expansion is expected to lead to up to 20 new jobs with a 10-15% rise in the wages bill.

The distillery currently employs around 150 staff.

Under the plan there will be around £3m of capital expenditure at the distillery every year for the next 10 to 15 years.

The application encompasses details of a new tourism and visitor centre.

The company said this proposal was at an early stage but the aim is to produce a "world class" facility.

No-one from Michelin or Jose Cuervo was available for comment - but a Michelin spokesman told the BBC that production would continue until 2018.

And a Bushmills spokesman told the BBC it had explored the viability of acquiring the site.

Jose Cuervo is owned by the Beckmann family in Mexico.

Michelin last year said it would be closing its Ballymena site due to falling demand for the tyres made there, and the high cost of energy here.

Belfast Telegraph

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.