By Dennis Seid
WEST POINT – In about two years, Yokohama Tire Corp. will roll out the first tire from its $300 million manufacturing plant.
It will be Yokohama’s first ground-up facility in the U.S., and it also represents the fastest construction time of any Yokohama plant to date.
“Yes, we are moving quickly,” said Tadaharu Yamamoto, president of Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi.
And speed has been key to the project all along.
Take Yamamoto, who just wrapped up his first week in his new role on Monday. Before being name the president of the plant here, he led Yokohama’s plant in the Philippines.
That facility, which produces 7 million tires a year, is the sister plant for YTMM.
The West Point plant will produce 1 million tires annually during the first phase of construction and manufacturing, which will lead to 500 jobs. Officials hope for three additional phases to add another 1,500 jobs and another $700 million in investment.
Yamamoto said the main difference between the two plants is Yokohama Mississippi will build bus and truck tires. The Philippines plant produces passenger and light truck tires.
“Building truck tires is very different,” he said. “The capacity in the Philippines is 3,000 tires a day; here we will be building 1,000 tires per day.”
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.
And while Yamamoto and other company officials talked about the speed at which the plant would be up and running, state officials also noted the speed at which the deal was done.
Brent Christensen, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, said talks with Yokohama went quickly over a relatively compressed time period for a project of this magnitude.
Some 3,000 counties across the country were vying for the project, but state officials were told only the finalists would be invited to visit the company’s headquarters in Japan.
“I visited Japan three times in six months, and while I don’t know how many finalists there were, we got our invitation to visit in February,” Christensen said.
Other sites in Mississippi were reviewed but passed over, and Yokohama’s site selection team zeroed in on the 500-acre Prairie Belt Power Site .
It was relatively flat and had good access to water, power, rail and roads. And, Christensen noted, whenever Yokohama had questions, they were answered quickly and thoroughly.
Discussions with fellow Japanese companies already doing business in the state – Nissan and Toyota – also propelled Yokohama’s decision to choose Mississippi.
“The talks were relatively quiet between them and Toyota and Nissan,” Christensen said. “There were only a small number of people who knew about it.
“I think what also made an impact was Toyota . … even though they had announced and then had to delay, they saw how the state stuck to its commitments with them. Companies like Toyota and Yokohama have a long-term outlook.”
Mississippi is providing a total of $130 million in incentives for Yokohama, $70 million of which will be used for the first phase of the project.
Christensen said in the future, ancillary businesses could spin off from the Yokohama plant, including suppliers and “other opportunities.”
“We’ll work on that,” he said. “But the first thing is to get Yokohama up and running.”
And that day can’t come soon enough for West Point and Clay County. Saddled with double-digit unemployment for years, the area still is struggling more than six years after Sara Lee shut down the Bryan Foods plant, laying off its last 1,200 workers.
“West Point and Clay County deserve this Yokohama plant,” said Joe Max Higgins, the CEO of the Golden Triangle Development LINK, the lead economic development agency for the area. “I can’t think of anyone more deserving.”
Said Gov. Phil Bryant:
“Just five months ago, the company announced its plans to locate these operations in West Point, and I am grateful to the Yokohama team, to the Mississippi Legislature and to those at the state and local levels for working so quickly to get this project under way.”