Cooper Tire has been an anchor for Tupelo and the region’s economy for three decades since it came to town to occupy the abandoned Penn Tire facility on Eason Boulevard.
The prospects for that anchor to remain for another decade and beyond increased substantially Wednesday when Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law a bill authorizing $20 million in bonds for the company to upgrade its Tupelo plant.
This was the culmination of an effort in the 2014 legislative session that involved the Community Development Foundation, local governments and the Lee County legislative delegation. It was not an easy task to secure the state help for Cooper, which combined with $18 million from Lee County and Tupelo will mean $38 million in assistance for the company’s projected $140 million investment.
The Legislature usually is open to assisting major employers – if there are new jobs involved. In Cooper’s case, news jobs weren’t guaranteed. It was a matter of holding on to most of the jobs that are here.
Cooper currently employs 1,600 in the Tupelo plant and it has promised to keep employment at 1,300 minimum for the next 10 years. Lee County interests had to convince the state that the chances were good that all those jobs would be lost if Cooper didn’t choose its Tupelo facility for modernization, resulting in a decline in production capacity.
Now the outlook is more positive. And although only 1,300 jobs are guaranteed – “only” is a relative term here – Cooper in the past has exceeded its employment commitments, and there’s a better-than-even chance that will happen this time as well.
The lobbying effort that convinced state officials to get behind the push to keep Cooper in Tupelo was well-executed and its success was no sure thing.
In a perfect world, public incentives to lure jobs wouldn’t be necessary. But no community or state competing for jobs can afford not to offer them. Simply put, you’ve got to do it to be competitive.
The key is in gauging what projects are vital enough to merit incentives and to approach those incentives with a reasonable prudence. The case with Cooper meets both criteria.
Cooper is a major economic cog for Northeast Mississippi. Losing it would be a huge hit. The bonds provided by the state – spread over three years – are a reasonable outlay for the jobs and tax revenue the company will continue to produce.