Cooper Tire hopes to add 150 jobs with expansion

TUPELO – Nearly a year after finding itself on the chopping block, the Cooper Tire and Rubber plant in Tupelo is adding room and more jobs.
On Tuesday, plant officials and employees, joined by local and state leaders, broke ground on a 32,000-square-foot expansion.
The approximately $7 million project also could add as many as 150 employees to the 1,250-worker plant.
“We’re going to need them for the expansion and to ramp up production,” said plant manager Pat Jodon.
In October, Cooper Tire – based in Findlay, Ohio – initiated a study that reviewed Cooper’s North American operations. At the time, the company said it would likely have to close one of its four U.S. plants.
Tupelo, along with plants in Findlay and Texarkana, Ark., were spared. The 1,300-worker plant in Albany, Ga., was not. However, its closing meant that the remaining plants would get some of the remaining work and equipment.
Cooper already has employed 78 more workers since July and plans to add at least 35-40 by the end of the year.
Jodon said hiring likely would extend into the first quarter of next year.
A 33-year veteran of Goodyear before joining Cooper, Jodon also said he’s not seen a better group of workers.
The expansion in Tupelo, plus the additional hiring, “is a reflection of the quality of people we have here in Mississippi,” he said. “From those in manufacturing to our management team, they’ve allowed us to do this, and they’ll always be key to our growth.”
Added David Rumbarger, president and CEO of the Community Development Foundation: “we knew we had great people here … they made the difference.”
Cooper Tire employs about 1,250 workers in Tupelo, plus an additional 400 contract workers. The significance of keeping the plant operating can’t be understated, officials said.
“This is not just a good day, it’s an exceptional day,” said Mayor Jack Reed Jr. “Employment is our No. 1 in anything and everything we do. And while Toyota represents a postponement in employment, what we’ve done here affects 1,200-plus workers and their families now.”
Said Jodon: “The significance of this project allows us to produce more complex, sophisticated products and will allow us to be even more competitive in North America.”
Despite the rain on Tuesday, workers already were marking off the concrete pavement where the expansion would be built on the southwest corner of the sprawling 1.6 million-square-foot complex.
Construction of the new mixing building, to be done by RFW Construction of Dyersburg, Tenn., is scheduled to begin later this month and be finished by April.
At the groundbreaking ceremony, praise was heaped upon state and local leaders for putting together a growth-and-retention incentives package valued at more than $30 million to keep Cooper here.
The other three communities that were involved in last year’s capacity study put together similarly valued incentives.
Rumbarger said the effort was just the latest in a history of cooperation between Tupelo and Lee County.
“Thank goodness that between state and local leaders, and of course, Gov. Haley Barbour, that we not only put together a good package, but we put together the benchmark package,” he said.
“This was truly a team effort on everything from every level,” said Chandler Russ of the Mississippi Development Authority.
The expansion news comes on the heels of a recent announcement that has brought more work to Tupelo.
Cooper Tire recently said it had reached a deal with Sears to provide two full lines of passenger tires to its Sears Auto Centers. A Cooper spokeswoman said the Tupelo plant would produce some of the tires, which come in 18 sizes.

Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678- 1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.

Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal