Cooper Tire incentives pay off with second expansion

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A little more than two years after the community was fighting desperately to keep open Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.’s Tupelo plant, the company is expanding for the second time.
On Wednesday, the company said it was investing $9 million in the plant and adding 35 new jobs. The expansion won’t add any more space to the 2 million-square-foot facility; rather, it will bring in new equipment to help improve the efficiency of the facility, said Tupelo plant manager Pat Jodon.
“It will make us stronger, more flexible and more competitive,” he said. “This will strengthen the plant and strengthen the company as we compete globally.”
The equipment will be moved into the plant over the next 12 to 14 months, Jodon said.
Wednesday’s announcement is the second round of growth for the plant since 2009. Then, the company announced a $7 million, 32,000-square-foot expansion that added 150 jobs.
But in late 2008, things weren’t quite as rosy. The Tupelo plant was one of Cooper Tire’s four North American plants it was considering closing.
However, state and local incentives and loans worth some $19 million played a large role in keeping the facility open. Instead, Cooper’s plant in New Albany, Ga., closed.
The decision to offer financial support to Cooper Tire was an easy one to make, officials said.
“What we were talking about then was an annual payroll of $81 million,” said Gray Swoope, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority. “Not only did it impact Tupelo and Lee County, but you had six surrounding counties with 75 or more Cooper Tire employees working at the plant. Those were jobs in those communities that could have been lost. Think of the impact there. We looked at it and we knew we couldn’t afford not to. We couldn’t ignore the economic impact. Now here we are two years later and Cooper Tire is expanding again.”
Already Cooper Tire’s largest North American facility, the Tupelo plant has been open since 1984. It employs more than 1,300 workers, in addition to several hundred contract workers.
David Rumbarger, president and CEO of the Community Development Foundation, said Wednesday’s announcement proved that the effort to keep Cooper Tire in Tupelo was worthwhile.
“You do everything you can to create and retain jobs,” he said. “We were given an opportunity to do that. … now, fortunately, they’ve given us an opportunity to perform for them.”
Officials estimate the annual payroll at the plant has grown to more than $100 million. The plant churns out mainly passenger car replacement tires, but also has expanded its truck and SUV assortment. Since 1984, Cooper Tire Tupelo has produced some 300 million tires.

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