Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law Wednesday legislation making Cooper Tire eligible to receive $20 million in state funds to help with modernization of its Tupelo manufacturing plant.
The Republican governor signed the legislation, which was passed during the final week of the recently completed session, in his Capitol office.
No formal event was held for the signing, but Bryant said the legislation was important to maintain jobs “for 1,300 families in Northeast Mississippi.” Under the terms of the agreement, for Cooper to receive the funds, it must maintain 1,300 jobs at the Tupelo plant.
Findlay, Ohio-based Cooper will receive the funds through the issuance of state bonds that will be paid off over a period of years. Under the bond bill, Cooper would be eligible for $8 million during the upcoming fiscal year, which starts July 1, followed by $6 million in each of the next two years.
Cooper has committed to expending $140 million at one or more of its plants, which include two others in the United States and others worldwide, to modernize machinery and to become more efficient. The belief is that the state funds, along with $18 million in local property tax breaks over a 10-year period, will entice Cooper to expend those funds in Lee County.
David Rumbarger, chief executive officer for the Lee County-based Community Development Foundation, said the state, local governmental officials and Cooper are working on an agreement that will stipulate that Cooper will be eligible for the state aid if the company commits to maintaining at least 1,300 jobs and to investing the $140 million in the modernization.
Rumbarger said the hope is to have the deal in place by late June.
Since Cooper is not committing to additional jobs, there were some questions on whether the Legislature would approve the package. Bryant said Wednesday, “I felt it was the fair thing to do” since the state had committed last year to provide Yokohama up to $130 million in incentives for the construction of a tire manufacturing plant in West Point where up to 2,000 people would be employed and the company would make an investment of up to $700 million.
The fear is that if the Tupelo plant is not modernized its manufacturing capacity could be dramatically reduced, resulting in a workforce reduction.
The hope, officials have said, is that the modernization will lead to an increase in production and employment of the Tupelo plant.
Rumbarger said the Legislature passing the bill and Bryant signing it into law were keys to the future success of the Tupelo plant.