OUR OPINION: Cooper’s opportunity merits legislative action

Cooper Tire’s sprawling industrial complex on South Green Street and Eason Boulevard in Tupelo houses a dynamo in Northeast Mississippi’s economy, and the Legislature is considering $20 million in bonds that could help ensure Cooper’s modernization, longevity, competitiveness and strong employment for decades.

The bonds would be used, along with about $18 million in tax incentives from Lee County and $140 million invested by the company, to equip the 1,600-employee plant with state-of-the- art manufacturing equipment that will help productivity soar and push Cooper toward an even stronger international presence in tire making.

Cooper employees themselves made a strong case in direct meetings last week with key leaders in the Capitol, including Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn and virtually the whole legislative delegation from Lee and some surrounding counties with Cooper employees.

The bonds are included in House-passed legislation, but the deal is not done and the issue is complex.

Cooper, in sum, guarantees a minimum workforce of 1,300 for 10 years if the incentives package and its own investment are made, a reasonable figure given the periodic fluctuations in manufacturing employment caused by economic condition. Cooper’s last partnership with incentives exceeded expectations, leading to the 1,600 employees at the plant now. There’s no reason to think it can’t happen again.

A 10-year commitment would mean a minimum payroll of $625 million for the region; Cooper’s pay is among the best in Mississippi. Some employees count multiple family generations as Cooper workers.

Cooper has been a positive, strong influence in the region’s and state’s economy for 30 years – an enviable record in an era when so many industries have declined or moved fully offshore.

It is significant that Cooper in Tupelo is competing against its parent company’s plants in other countries in seeking the new equipment and striking technological advances.

Tupelo and the region recognized almost 70 years ago that innovation and willingness to invest in opportunities for the common good were our greatest assets in the context of a willing workforce hungry for prosperity.

We believe the Legislature’s confidence in Cooper and the opportunity posed will be multiplied many times if the upgrade goals are fully met.

We urge passage of the bonds for economic development.