By Dennis Seid
The $143 million merger of Renasant Corp. and First M&F Corp. was the top business story in Northeast Mississippi this year.
In February, Tupelo-based Renasant announced its intention to acquire Kosciusko-based First M&F. The merger combined the financial holding companies’ respective Renasant Bank and M&F Bank subsidiaries and formed the state’s fourth-largest bank.
First M&F shareholders received 0.6425 shares of Renasant stock for each share of First M&F stock.
At the time of the announcement, M&F had 36 branches in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, while Renasant had 75 offices in the same states, plus Georgia.
The boards of directors for both companies approved the merger, as did its shareholders.
The merger was completed earlier this month. The combined bank, which retained the Renasant name, has $5.8 milliion in assets, $3.8 billion in loans and $4.9 billion in deposits.
Nine former M&F bank and Renasant locations closed as part of merger, but the combine bank now has more than 120 banking, insurance and other offices across its footprint.
In addition, some 300 former M&F employees joined Renasant, giving the company a total of 1,555 employees.
Other top stories of the year
• Furniture Brands International bankruptcy. The St. Louis-based furniture maker was once the nation’s largest furniture supplier and manufacturer.
As late as 2006, the company – which was the parent of Tupelo-based Lane Furniture Industries – had sales of $2.4 billion. But that also was the last year Furniture Brands posted a profit. In 2008 alone, the company lost $385 million.
After reporting another quarterly loss in August, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Sept. 9. At the time, the company listed $547 million in assets and $550 million in debt. The company’s pension also was underfunded by more than $200 million.
The fate of Lane’s 1,400 workers wasn’t clear.
After a bidding war between two investment firms, KPS Capital Partners emerged with a winning offer of $280 million.
In November, after KPS had completed the purchase of most of the assets of Furniture Brands International, it renamed the company Heritage Home Group. It also named a new CEO.
It’s not clear how many Lane employees remain, but the four facilities – including two manufacturing plants – in Northeast Mississippi remain open.
• Yokohama Tire announces new plant. Clay County, long straddled with double-digit unemployment rates worsened by the closure of the former Bryan Foods plant in 2007, got a much-needed boost in the arm.
Yokohama Tire Corp. of Japan said it was building its first ground-up manufacturing facility in the U.S. in West Point. The commercial truck and bus tire plant will initially employ 500 as the company invests $300 million.
Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi will being hiring 140 people in the coming year. It will open the application process in February.
If demand spurs it, YTMMS could employ another 1,500 and $700 million in investment in three additional phases.
The West Point plant will produce up to 1 million truck tires a year during its first phase. With the additional expansions, the plant could build as many as 4 million tires a year.
The West Point facility will be Yokohama’s fourth manufacturing plant dedicated to truck and bus tires worldwide. The company has two in Japan and one in Thailand.
• Cooper Tire’s merger with a suitor falters. What started as an amicable merger between two tire companies quickly dissolved.
Finlay, Ohio-based CooperTire & Rubber Co., which opened its Tupelo plant in 1984, was approached by India-based Apollo Tyres, which wanted a merger worth about $2.5 billion.
Cooper employs about 1,300 at its Tupelo plant.
The deal immediately drew some critics, who said the deal would add too much debt that Cooper would have to carry.
In addition, Cooper faced stiff opposition from its joint venture in China, Cooper Chengshan Tire Co. Since July, the 5,000 Chinese workers there have refused to make Cooper-branded tires or allowed Cooper management to review key data, including financial information. That forced Cooper – which has a 65 percent interest in the plant – to delay its quarterly earnings report, which was due in mid-November.
Another twist, it was revealed that Cooper Chinese JV partner had offered a merger proposal, which Cooper rejected in favor of Apollo.
If the deal isn’t completed by Dec. 31, Apollo can walk away without paying a $112.5 million reverse-breakup fee. Analysts aren’t sure how that would impact Cooper in the long-term.
• BancorpSouth’s voluntary early retirements offered. In an effort to cut cost and improve efficiency, Tupelo-based BancorpSouth offered voluntary early retirement packages to about 10 percent of its workforce.
In early May, BancorpSouth offered the packages to 418 of its 4,000 employees at it banking, insurance, mortgage and trust offices in eight states.
Of that eligible number of retirees, 227, or 54 percent of the group, accepted the offer.
BancorpSouth expects to save $7 million to $12 million a year with the move.
• Action Industries cofounder Bo Bland dies. The furniture industry lost a visionary pioneer and legend when Alvin E. “Bo” Bland died in February.
Bland, who was 88, founded reclining furniture company Action Industries in 1970 with Mickey Holliman.
In 1972, Action merged with Lane Furniture Industries. In 1987, Furniture Brands International acquired the company.
Bland was inducted into the American Furniture Hall of Fame in 2001. He was credited with developing the mechanism used in Action’s motion furniture, helping pave the way for the company’s success.
Bland began his career working with another pioneer, Morris Futorian, who established the upholstered furniture industry in Northeast Mississippi in the late 1940s.
• Toyota boosts production, readies for export. Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi in Blue Springs has increased production to 160,000 vehicles a year, an increase of 10,000 over its original goal.
The plant produces the world’s best-selling car, the Corolla. TMMMS, which rolled off its first vehicle in October 2011, has built more than 250,000 of the world’s best-selling car.
Toyota also will begin exporting the Corolla for the first time to 18 countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, starting in April.
In addition to its new export role, Toyota Mississippi is the sole supplier for all 2014 Corolla service parts sold in North America, and soon, in South America. Those parts include the doors, hoods and fenders.
Toyota employs 2,000 workers at TMMMS, while on-site suppliers add another 500. Another 1,500 work for seven other suppliers to the plant.