OUR OPINION: Fast-track investment will employ thousands

Yokohama Tire’s fast track toward production at its under-construction West Point plant embodies two firsts for the Japanese manufacturer: It is the first ground-up plant in the U.S. and its shovel to roll-off time is projected to be the quickest in the worldwide firm’s history.

Speed, in fact, has been a constant in the idea that West Point could win the plant siting against about 3,000 competitors.

Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Brent Christensen said talks with Yokohama went quickly over a relatively compressed period. Only the finalists were invited to visit Yokohama’s Japanese headquarters.

“I visited Japan three times in six months, and while I don’t know how many finalists there were, we got our invitation to visit in February,” Christensen said.

It is encouraging that other sites in Mississippi were under consideration, but the Prairie Belt Power Site in Clay County fit the project better than any of the others anywhere for the $300 million first-phase investment. The full-production plant is expected to employ 2,000.

Christensen said questions were answered quickly and precisely, an obvious necessity when a firm has decided it will build a new manufacturing facility, with only the site not plugged in.

It is significant that other Japanese companies in Mississippi like Nissan and Toyota also influenced the Yokohama decision.

Yokohama is an economic godsend for West Point/Clay County, whose unemployment rate at times has hovered at nearly 20 percent after a decade of job losses, including longtime employment anchor Bryan/Sara Lee foods.

Joe Max Higgins, CEO of the Golden Triangle Development Link, said in a Mississippi Public Broadcasting report, “Probably somewhere around 1,200 construction workers will be on this site and working for a year and a half, two years.

So there’s going to be a lot of local revenue … generated with that influx of new people coming in.”

Dirt work is under way at the 570-acre site.

It’s unrealistic to expect investment on the scale of Yokohama’s every time there’s an economic development announcement, but 10 years ago other plants of similar size were unheard of in Northeast Mississippi. Today those similar companies employ thousands from near Columbus to Blue Springs in Union County.