By Sarah Robinson/NEMS Daily Journal
WEST POINT – After eight months of bidding, Yokohama Tire Corp. has signed a memorandum of understanding with the state of Mississippi to bring a major manufacturing plant to Clay County.
“I always knew we could do this,” said Gov. Phil Bryant at Monday’s signing ceremony. The ceremony took place at the Ritz Theater in downtown West Point before a large, enthusiastic crowd.
Sen. Roger Wicker, Rep. Alan Nunnelee, Rep. Gregg Harper and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves were among elected officials who spoke at the event.
Bryant said more than 3,000 counties initially made bids to the tire manufacturer, but Clay County came out ahead. Bryant said Yokohama will invest about $1 billion in the project.
“This is just the beginning,” he said, adding that suppliers for the company likely will follow suit.
Bryant said although the company will get the same tax breaks as Toyota and Nissan, it will pay local school taxes that will mean about $900,000 a year for the local school district.
The project was spearheaded by the Mississippi Development Authority, West Point, Clay County and the Golden Triangle Development LINK.
Wicker said he was proud of the role federal agencies TVA and the Appalachian Regional Commission, which also contributed to the effort, played in the project.
Brent Christensen, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, said coming in second place in the bid for this project was not an option. “If you’re second on a project like this, you have nothing but a lot of bills at the end of the line,” he said.
Wicker commended the MDA’s effort and its attention to detail, even making sure Yokohama tires were used on all of the vehicles that transported company officials.
“We wanted it, and we had a better package,” Wicker said.
The Legislature passed an incentive package worth $130 million over the next four years to entice the 90-year-old tire company to set up operations in Mississippi.
The project is expected to bring 500 jobs to Clay County in its first year with expansion bringing up to 1,500 additional jobs during the next 10 years.
Clay County has struggled with high unemployment rates since manufacturing jobs were lost when the Sara Lee and Bryan Foods plant closed in 2007.
Some have raised concerns about the impact of Yokohama’s arrival on Cooper Tire, which employs 1,300 at its Tupelo plant. Two Lee County legislators sought unsuccessfully to have tax breaks extended to Cooper in last week’s special session dealing with the Yokohama incentives.
Nunnelee said he does not think Yokohama’s arrival will adversely affect any other industry in the area.
“Mississippi is getting the reputation for being the heart of automotive manufacturing in the nation,” he said.
Officials from Yokohama said choosing Mississippi was in their best business interests in terms of labor pool, community relations and the potential for future growth.