WEST POINT, MS. Calling it the “star of the automotive universe in Mississippi,” Gov. Phil Bryant praised executives of Yokohama Tire Corp. and its subsidiary, Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi, last night at a press briefing ahead of the formal grand opening of the tire maker’s first new U.S. plant.
With 260 employees already in place producing commercial truck tires, primarily 22.5 and 24.5 in. sizes, the ceremony this morning - a traditional Japanese Kagama Biraki ceremony - in this community in Clay County provided executives from Japan a chance to see the fruition of 24 months of hard work following an agreement with the state to build the plant.
“It is one of Yokohama’s fastest facility builds ever and I credit that to Mississippi’s skilled workforce,” said Tadaharu Yamamoto, president, Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi (YTMM). “This has been an incredible experience, moving to Mississippi and watching a facility being born.”
The 1 million sq. ft. facility, which will produce 1 million commercial tires annually when running at full production estimated to be by 2018, will allow Yokohama to build commercial tires in the U.S., rather than bringing the majority of them in from Thailand. The company does produce some tires at a joint U.S. facility operated with Continental, and that will slowly be phased out as the Mississippi plant ramps up, said Fred Koplin, senior director of marketing and motorsports.
Yokohama will continue to bring a percentage of tires from Thailand, said Rick Phillips, vice president of sales. But the plant provides a great opportunity for the company to gain market share by increasing the speed of tire delivery to customers.
“Our lead time will literally go from months when sourcing tires off-shore to days as we source tires locally,” Phillips said.
Yokohama reached agreement with the state in 2012 to build the facility and a groundbreaking was held on Sept. 23, 2013. Mississippi contributed about $70 million in incentives and other benefits, “horse-trading,” Bryant called it, as well $20 million to build Yokohama Boulevard, a commercial road to the facility. There is also another potential $130 million in state funds available to Yokohama for expansion plans.
“We are eager to invest the $130 million,” Bryant said. “This was 500-acrea pasture and now it is an industrial complex.”
According to Bryant, 15 years ago there was no automotive-related manufacturing in the state, which now claims facilities from Yokohama as well as Nissan and Toyota.
The total investment in the plant was $300 million. According to Hikomitsu Noji, president and representative director, The Yokohama Rubber Co., the U.S. facility was needed to help Yokohama grow in North America.
“We [needed this] if we wanted to meet growing demand and success,” he said. “We could no longer [import tires from overseas].”
Yokohama also has a facility in Virginia that produces mostly automotive tires.
At full production, the facility is expected to employ about 500 as part of Phase I. Additional phases could add hundreds more jobs.
Yokohama also worked with East Mississippi Community College, which put in place a workforce training program to prepare local workers for the jobs that needed filling.
“Clay County had the second highest unemployment rate in Mississippi, and now 500 families in Clay County will have jobs,” Bryant said.
In the end, though, the plant is about fulfilling customer needs.
“This tells Yokohama Tire partners that Yokohama is committed to the commercial [market],” said Takaharu Fushimi, CEO, Yokohama Corp. of North America & Yokohama Tire Corp. “What this modern plant means to our customers is simply this: They will get what they want when they want it.”