OUR OPINION: Cooper’s Tupelo plant could be strengthened

For 30 years, Cooper Tire has been a major employer for Tupelo and the region and a solid contributor to the health of the area’s economy.

Its current 1,600 jobs and annual payroll of $80 million make maintaining the company’s presence a top priority for economic developers and elected officials.

Cooper’s announced merger last year with Apollo Tyre raised some concerns, but that deal fell apart, and now company officials are considering a major investment that could guarantee at least another decade of high employment by Cooper in Tupelo.

They’re looking to state and local governments for help in that effort, as Community Development Foundation CEO David Rumbarger told the Daily Journal on Wednesday.

More: Cooper eyes Tupelo plant upgrade

Gov. Phil Bryant and legislative leaders met with Cooper CEO Roy Armes and other company officials to discuss the state’s possible assistance in a deal that could result in a long-term Cooper commitment to modernize its Tupelo plant and retain at least 1,300 jobs over the next decade. The state would issue $20 million in bonds and Tupelo and Lee County would add $18 million in tax breaks.

Cooper was good on its word when it got state and local support in 2007 to expand in Tupelo – in fact, it delivered more than twice the promised $30 million investment and employment rose to 1,600 – 400 more than the minimum required. Cooper closed its Georgia plant the following year, but Tupelo’s has remained a strong presence.

Sometimes the hunt for new industry obscures the critical importance of holding on to the economic linchpins already in place. CDF, Lee County, the city of Tupelo and the state haven’t lost sight of that with Cooper through the years, and the company has reciprocated by continuing to invest here.

This is another pivotal point in the company’s decision-making process, with $140 million planned for investment in plant modernization. Mississippi and local officials appear to be in a position to make a decision by Cooper to reinvest in Tupelo a reality.

CDF’s Rumbarger calls a new deal with Cooper “a great insurance policy.” The number and nature of Cooper’s jobs make the state’s and local governments’ help in paying the premiums well worth it.

We hope the governor and legislative leaders will see fit to move the deal forward.