By JACK WEATHERLY
Yokohama Tire Manufacturing on Monday started production at its new $300 million commercial truck tire facility in West Point.
The Tokyo-based manufacturer has already hired 260 workers and expects to reach 500 in the first phase of its operation, with the possibility of expanding to 2,000 employees in subsequent phases.
Just a little over 24 months after breaking ground on the 500-acre site, the manufacturer played host Monday to more than 300 guests at the 1-million-square-foot facility.
“Thanks to Gov. (Phil) Bryant, the great state of Mississippi, the entire community of West Point, the Golden Triangle Region and the incredible Mississippi workforce, the plant site was developed to a fully operational state-of-the-art facility in record time,” Tadaharu Yamamoto, president of the Mississippi division of Yokohama, said in a release.
State and local government contributed $108 million to the project.
The plant will produce up to 1 million tires annually when running at full capacity.
“I appreciate the Yokohama team, the Mississippi Legislature and state and local officials who have worked hard from day one to expedite this project and create so many jobs for the residents of West Point and the Golden Triangle region,” Bryant said in a prepared statement.
Clay County’s unemployment rate was 9.2 percent in August, compared with the state average of 5.6 percent. The county’s average monthly joblessness rate is 11 percent through the first eight months.
The county has not fully recovered from the closure of the Bryan Foods plant, then operating under the name Sarah Lee, in 2007, which eliminated 1,500 jobs, West Point Mayor Robbie Robinson said in an interview. Bryan Foods was founded in West Point in 1936 and sold to Sarah Lee Corp. in 1968.
Robinson said that the recruitment of Yokohama was a team effort – from the local to the state level — and that “we just feel real fortunate.”
The Mississippi Development Authority gave about $70 million toward the project, including $48 million for site preparation and rail construction, and $11.75 million for a training center and training needs, according to MDA spokesman Jeff Rent.
The city contributed $3.5 million from a loan through the Mississippi Development Authority to construct a water tower and water and wastewater infrastructure. The loan will be paid back over 20 years from water service fees, Robinson said.
Clay County contributed $11 million, $9.5 million of which it received from the MDA for purchase of 500 acres. The federal government contributed $1.5 million through the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Applachian Regional Council, according to Joe Max Higgins, president and chief executive of the Golden Triangle Development Link, which represents the tri-city area of Columbus, Starkville and West Point.
The average annual wage will be about $38,000, said Higgins, who indicated that the salary figure was not greatly skewed because “Yokohama is not a management-fat company.”
Higgins said landing Yokohama was not easy. The company looked at 3,000 sites in 48 states, he said.
Yokohama Rubber Co., Ltd., the Tokyo-based parent, was founded in 1917. It manufactures tires for high-performance, light truck, passenger car, commercial truck and bus, and off-the-road mining and construction use.