FINDLAY — Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. celebrated its 100th anniversary on Thursday with a company picnic that included a visit from Sen. Rob Portman, who praised the firm’s contributions to northwestern Ohio.
The origins of what is today the fourth-largest tire manufacturer in the United States began in Akron, where in 1914 brothers-in-law John F. Schaefer and Claude E. Hart purchased the M and M Manufacturing Co., which made tire patches, tire cement, and tire repair kits. A year later, they purchased another Akron tire business, and in 1917 moved the combined firm to Findlay.
Now Cooper has 1,900 employees in Findlay and nearly 13,000 around the world.
Cooper Chief Executive Roy Armes told gathered employees and retirees that their hard work had helped Cooper grow.
“One hundred years of success is a real tribute to the people of this organization,” he said.
Mr. Armes also announced Thursday that the company will resurrect plans to build a global technical center in Findlay.
Early last year Cooper announced that it would spend $40 million over the next five years to create a new technology center that would create 40 jobs in Findlay. The Ohio Third Frontier, part of Ohio Development Services Agency, committed $2.8 million for the project.
That project was put on hold last year as Cooper entered into a merger deal with Apollo Tyres Ltd. that ultimately fell through. Now with Cooper out of that merger agreement and regaining strength, Mr. Armes said the state has reconfirmed its $2.8 million commitment. The issue will go before the state controlling board next week for final approval.
“We’re really, really happy about being able to reinstitute that and get that going again,” Mr. Armes said.
Mr. Portman noted its uncommon for companies to last as long as Cooper has, and praised the company’s work in Findlay.
“They not only provide a lot of great jobs, but also they get involved in the community. They’re involved in ensuring the health care here is better. I’ve worked with them a lot on the Blanchard River flooding issue.”
Mr. Portman noted that after a long delay, a proposed study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is now moving forward. He said strong community involvement and fund-raising from companies including Cooper and Marathon Petroleum Corp., has been important to keep the project moving.
Once the study is finished, Mr. Portman said the next step is to get a solution in the Water Resources Bill. He said it’s both an issue for residents and economic development.
Mr. Portman also said the federal government needs to remain vigilant that other countries aren’t importing tires for sale here at below-market prices or illegally subsidizing their tire industries. The government also must continue to work at ensuring a more highly skilled work force.
In an interview following his remarks to employees, Mr. Armes said the company remains strong, even after last year’s challenges surrounding the failed merger.
“Once we terminated the merger agreement at the end of the year, our people immediately got focused on what do we have to do, without all this distraction, to be successful as a company next year, and our first quarter performance has really indicated how fast we were able to ramp up and come back,” he said. “We still have challenges throughout the year but I feel very confident about our organization and how we’re going to be able to deal with those.”
Cooper reported a first-quarter profit of $45 million, or 71 cents per share, on sales of $796 million.