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Published: Thursday, 12/18/2008

Findlay's Cooper Tire plant will remain open

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
A worker moves tires to a trailer at the Cooper plant in Findlay. A worker moves tires to a trailer at the Cooper plant in Findlay.
SIMMONS / BLADE Enlarge

FINDLAY - Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. will keep its Findlay manufacturing plant open after winning tens of millions of dollars in concessions from its workers and from Ohio taxpayers under a threat to close one of its four U.S. plants.

Instead, the Findlay-based producer of replacement tires announced yesterday that it intends to shutter its plant in Albany, Ga. in 2009, idling about 1,400 workers there.

"I wouldn't say we're celebrating," said Rodney Nelson, president of United Steelworkers Local 207L, which represents about 1,000 Cooper workers in the Findlay plant. "We're thinking about the Albany community, but we're feeling really lucky." Mr. Nelson said his members agreed this month to a contract that includes deep wage and benefit concessions that are expected to save Findlay-based Cooper $10 million a year at its hometown plant, and $30 million over the three years of the agreement.

The Steelworkers Union also approved concessions at its factory in Texarkana, Ark., its only other unionized facility. The plants, along with a third in Tupelo, Miss., will be receiving additional work.

Cooper officials said it will book $150 million to $175 million in restructuring charges in connection with the moves. Once the cuts are made, however, the company expects to save $75 million to $80 million annually as early as next year.

"This was a difficult decision and we regret the impact it will have on our employees in Albany and the surrounding community," Roy Armes, Cooper chief executive, said in a written statement. "The detailed study we performed was fair, objective, and conclusive that we needed to consolidate our capacity and close one of our U.S. facilities."

"The government and community agencies were actively engaged and involved and offered a high level of support, but the final outcome was clear," he said.

The Albany facility was acquired by Cooper in 1990 and employs approximately 1,400. Cooper intends to realign the mix of products at its remaining U.S facilities to meet customer demand.

State and local officials in Ohio applauded the company's decision to spare its workers in Findlay. They had assembled a package of tax credits, grants and loans that will save Cooper about $27 million, said Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, who runs the Ohio Department of Development.

"Our number one priority has been and always will be keeping the companies that have jobs here," he said. "It doesn't do any good to bring a company in the front door while letting another leave through the back."

Georgia offered an incentive package for Cooper totaling about $32 million, said Alison Tyrer, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Economic Development.

Union workers at Texarkana on Saturday voted 84 percent to 16 percent to adopt a new contract. The same workers went on strike for a month in 2005 over health benefits, returning to work after a narrow majority accepted the company proposal.

About a year later, Cooper converted the factory to a "flex" plant, which trimmed the worker count from 1,900 and made the plant more adaptable to increases and decreases in production.

David Boone, president of the Texarkana plant's Steelworkers Local 752L, said he expects the plant to convert back to a continuous operation plant once work is moved from Albany. He said the plant will likely hire between 250 and 300 workers.

Cooper spokesman Patricia Brown said the company would not comment on the various incentive packages offered by those trying to save their local plants, but said that the packages will make the company more competitive.

"This is just the economics of the world today, and I think all companies are looking at it in the same way," Ms. Brown said. "The competition for us is not among our four plants; it's between Cooper and our competitors."

The Blade's News Services contributed to this report.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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