OUR OPINION: Cooper Tire bond bill solidifies major asset

The Legislature on Monday approved a $230 million state bonding package bill that includes provision of a $20 million bond issue spread over three years to help assure Cooper Tire’s continued strong employment and manufacturing presence in Tupelo and Northeast Mississippi.

Cooper, which occupies a sprawling 1,600-employee complex on Coley Road and South Green Street, proposes spending $140 million in major equipment upgrades paired with approximately $38 million in aid and tax exemption incentives from the state, Tupelo and Lee County.

It would commit to a continued Tupelo operation with at least 1,300 employees for at least 10 years. An earlier similar agreement saw Cooper employment rise beyond the minimum commitment to 1,600 employees.

Monday’s approval of a carefully crafted conference committee report provides for funding the Cooper bond issue through the Mississippi Development Authority, the main state agency dealing with economic expansion and sustained employment of historically strong manufacturers.

The bill also approves more than $30 million in bonds to build a new classroom building for the University of Mississippi School of Medicine in Jackson. The medical school project was a top priority of Gov. Phil Bryant, who has vowed to improve health care statewide, including additional physicians from the Ole Miss School of Medicine, the state’s only public medical school.

Also included is $23 million for community colleges and $14 million for a history and civil rights museum complex the state is building in Jackson. The museums are set to be completed and open in time for the state to celebrate its bicentennial in 2017.

All the universities will receive substantial funding for capital projects.

Credit is due Lee County’s legislative delegation and others from Northeast Mississippi for strongly supporting the Cooper Tire bond issue and for helping persuade their legislative colleagues to put it in the bond bill, always a difficult package to negotiate.

The persistence of Cooper employees and executives who lobbied Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and many legislators was critically important to eventual approval.

Cooper’s 10-year commitment will mean approximately $630 million in payroll, not counting any general raises that might be implemented during the period.