EDITORIAL: Cooper Tire at 25

By NEMS Daily Journal

Cooper Tire marked its 25th anniversary in Tupelo and Northeast Mississippi on Monday with a brief work-hours ceremony in a conference room on its sprawling campus, a low-key celebration of a remarkable revival of a facility and an industry that had disappeared from the radar when Penn Tire closed its South Green Street facility in 1978.
Cooper Tire, working with Lee County and Tupelo officials, the Community Development Foundation, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, purchased the defunct facility in 1984 and dedicated its newest plant Sept. 19, 1985.
Now, 285 million tires later, with a plant expanded eight times and valued at $400 million, 1,300 regular employees, plus contract workers, earn a $90 million annual payroll that’s a mainstay of the region’s industrial sector and economy.
Lee County Board of Supervisors President Darrell Rankin said he had worked in his youth during a Christmas school vacation loading tires on rail cars and flat-bed trucks, and that his mother had told him every day he smelled like rubber.
“I told her that was the smell of a paycheck,” he said to a laughing audience.
The Tupelo plant had its back to the wall with most other Cooper Tire plants in the U.S. in late 2008 when a capacity study sought to identify the company’s weakest and strongest links. Tupelo won a high productivity rating. Cooper closed its Albany, Ga., plant, and expanded its Tupelo operations. The city, county and state worked with Cooper on an incentives package to help assure its viability in Mississippi.
Cooper, which is Tupelo Water and Light’s largest electricity customer, has a 163.75-acre site and 2 million square feet under roof.
The Findlay, Ohio-based firm had $2.8 billion in revenue during the most recent fiscal year, and its stock price has been strong on the New York Stock Exchange. Bloomberg News reported last week that Deutsche Bank is raising its price target on Cooper Tire & Rubber Company to $25.50. It was trading at $20.44 on the NYSE at 3 p.m. Monday. The German investment bank sees strong demand for tires.
Replacement tire demand in the U.S. grew 9.3 percent year-on-year in December 2009, from a drop of 16 percent the year before. The increase is linked to last year’s Chinese-made tire tariffs.
The non-union Tupelo plant earlier this month celebrated 1 million accident-free work hours, the first Cooper plant in North America to reach that milestone.
Our region needs more companies of Cooper’s quality and resilience.