Cooper eyes Tupelo plant upgrade

cooper-tire-logoBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Cooper Tire officials, including Chief Executive Officer Roy Armes, met with Gov. Phil Bryant and legislative leaders Wednesday about the possibility of receiving $20 million in state funds to help with the modernization of its Tupelo plant.

Armes said the Findlay, Ohio-based company is looking to spend $140 million worldwide for “an equipment modernization project” during the next three to five years.

David Rumbarger, CEO of the Lee County-based Community Development Foundation, said the hope is to lure Cooper to spend those modernization funds at the Tupelo plant. Rumbarger and Cooper officials met with Bryant and legislative leaders about the possibility of passing legislation during the ongoing session to commit the funds to the Cooper project.

Armes said the goal is “to modernize our facility to make it more globally competitive.” Cooper also has plants in Mexico and China that Tupelo is in competition with for the company’s planned $140 million investment.

OUR OPINION: Cooper’s Tupelo plant could be strengthened

What is under consideration, according to Rumbarger, is a $20 million investment from the state, plus $18 million from Tupelo and Lee County. The state funds would come in the form of bonds likely issued over a three-year period. The local government money would come in tax breaks that are allowed over a 10-year period for companies that make major investments, such as Cooper’s proposed $140 million modernization investment.

A CDF narrative said, “The project will again protect the existing jobs and establish the Tupelo operation as the most efficient operation globally.”

Under the agreement, Cooper would commit to a minimum of 1,300 jobs in Tupelo for an additional 10 years. In 2007, Cooper received $7 million in state funds, plus additional local support, to build new facilities to maintain its Tupelo operation. At that time, Cooper agreed to invest $30 million in the Tupelo plant and maintain 1,200 jobs.

CDF said Cooper has far exceeded that commitment, investing $70 million and employing 1,600.

With the state/local investment in the new project, Rumbarger said Cooper would extend its commitment for 10 years and increase its commitment for number of jobs by 100. But because of the modernization effort greatly enhancing the plant’s capacity, Rumbarger said Cooper could far exceed those commitment numbers as it has done in the past.

“Everything they have given us as a commitment they have exceeded,” he said.

Rumbarger said the project at the very least would protect existing jobs for 10 years. Cooper closed a plant in Georgia in 2008, eliminating 1,200 jobs after deciding to expand its Tupelo operation.

“It is a great insurance policy,” Rumbarger said, adding the plant is crucial to the economy of Northeast Mississippi.

Armes, Rumbarger and other Cooper officials, including Tupelo Plant Manager Robert Haggerty, met with House and Senate leaders and the governor.

“The governor is always open to discussing ways to support the state’s existing businesses,” said Bryant Communications Director Nicole Webb when asked about the meeting.

Of the proposal, Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, said, “Anything that can make our companies more competitive and shore up jobs I am about it.”

Cooper began operations in Tupelo in the 1980s and has an annual payroll of more than $80 million. Cooper makes car and light truck tires.

The modernization would allow Cooper to sell directly to automotive manufacturers.

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