Cooper aid bill heads to governor

cooper-tire-logoBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Both chambers of the Legislature on Monday gave approval to the Mississippi Development Authority to commit $20 million to Cooper Tire over a three-year period for the modernization of its Tupelo manufacturing plant.

Unless a legislator holds the proposal on a motion to reconsider today or unless other extraordinary measures are taken, the bill now goes to Gov. Phil Bryant for his signature.

Under the bond proposal, 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.

The Findlay, Ohio-based company has committed to expending $140 million at one of 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 tax breaks over a 10-year period, will entice Cooper to expend those funds in Lee County.

David Rumbarger, chief executive officer of the Lee County-based Community Development Foundation, said, assuming the governor signs the bill, Tupelo, Lee County, the state and Cooper will sign a memorandum of understanding that “sets terms of conditions of everybody’s role and responsibility.

There were questions about whether Cooper would be included in the bond package since the company has not committed to increasing its work force that currently is about 1,600 at the Tupelo plant. It has said it will not go below 1,300 employees over the next decade.

But the belief is that the plant might be in jeopardy unless it is modernized. Local officials also hope the modernization eventually will lead to a workforce increase in Tupelo.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-Greenville, asked about committing state funds to a project that was not guaranteeing new jobs.

Senate Finance Chair Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said if the Tupelo plant is not modernized it may not be able to compete.

“It is to maintain the level of jobs and…we also would like to see some of the jobs (in other Cooper plants) locate there,” he said.

Also, on Monday, both chambers of the Legislature passed bond bills to finance other long-term construction projects, totaling $199.9 million, plus another $30 million for the purchase of a railroad on the western side of the state. Those railroad bonds, though, will not be paid off by state funds.

Included in those bonds are:

• $2.5 million for the Tammy Wynette Museum in Tremont.

• $500,000 for the William Faulkner/Union Heritage Museum in New Albany.

• $250,000 for renovations at Okolona College in Chickasaw County.

Also in the bond package, the universities will garner $92.8 million for building and renovation projects while the community colleges will receive $23 million.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com