Michelin North America (Canada) Inc. has announced it will significantly reduce tire manufacturing at its car and light truck tire plant in Pictou County, N.S. over the next 18 months.

The company says the move, which will affect 500 employees, is in response to a continuing shift in the North American tire market to larger size tires, and the limits of the Pictou County plant.

“The market has changed dramatically since the plant was built in 1971, and the company is changing with market demands,” said Grant Ferguson, president of Michelin North America (Canada) Inc. in a statement on the company’s website.

“Market demand for small car tire dimensions, such as the 14-, 15-, and 16- inch tires produced at the Pictou County plant, is diminishing. Investment costs to upgrade the 43-year-old plant for larger car tire production are not cost-effective.”

The company says tire production will be significantly reduced by June 30, 2015 and the change will occur in two phases. A production line that produces small dimension tire cars will close permanently by June 30, 2014, affecting about 200 employees.

The remaining tire production activity at the site will be reduced by June 30, 2015, impacting roughly 300 additional employees, according to the company’s website.

The company currently employs about 1,000 workers and an undetermined number of contractors.

“We have a long history of manufacturing here, and we care deeply about the well-being of our workforce and the community,” said Ferguson. “We will continue as a significant manufacturing employer in Pictou County with our remaining operations on site, and we will continue to invest in Nova Scotia.”

Some operations, such as high-performance car tire production, tire membrane production, and the existing rubber mixing operation, will continue at the plant in Granton, N.S., along with the company’s Canadian corporate offices.

The company says the reduction at the Granton plant will not affect its tire plants in Bridgewater, N.S. and Waterville, N.S.

Employees affected by the reduction will have an opportunity to relocate to the plants in Bridgewater and Waterville.

“We will work closely with all Michelin Pictou County employees affected by this decision to assess their situation and to help determine their best option and their choice moving forward — whether they will be able to retire, transfer to another position or transfer to another Michelin location in Nova Scotia,” said Ferguson.

Michelin remains the largest private manufacturer in Nova Scotia and has invested almost $2 billion in its operations since it began operations in 1969.

Community shocked by announcement

Monday’s announcement that Michelin would be cutting 500 jobs at its Granton, N.S. plant has shocked many in Pictou County, where the company has been a major employer for more than 40 years.

“I have lots of clients and friends that work there…that’s awful,” said real estate agent Lisa Bailey. “I don’t know what they’re going to do here. There’s not enough work as it is.”

Employees were hesitant to discuss the news as they left the plant Monday.

“It’s not good news, but other than that, I have very little to say,” said one worker.

“I just found out about it and I don’t have much comment,” said another.

“I may still be here. I may not be,” said employee Tim Parker. “There’s always Alberta.”

At this time, it is difficult to measure how much of an impact the job cuts will make on the community’s economy, but the executive director of the Pictou County Chamber of Commerce says they will likely be significant.

“It certainly is a sad day for Pictou County, but it’s not the end of the world,” said Jack Kyte. “If one were to announce that the Michelin plant was closing completely, that would be absolutely devastating.”

Provincial politicians are also expressing sadness and disappointment over the announcement.

“I know all Nova Scotians will be sad to watch 500 high-paying jobs leaving the province,” said Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie.

“Obviously, you’re thinking of the families in the community when you have the news that the company is retooling itself,” said Nova Scotia Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil.

Michelin says the company will be working with affected employees who may be considering retirement or a transfer to one of the other two plants in the province, and will also be helping employees find jobs outside the company.

With files from CTV Atlantic's Dan MacIntosh