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Mississippi Approves Cooper Tire Incentives

Gov. Haley Barbour has signed a bill to provide $19 million of incentives to keep a Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. manufacturing plant in northeastern Mississippi.

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- A new Mississippi law signed Tuesday provides $19 million worth of incentives to keep and expand a Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. plant in a region struggling with years of decline in furniture manufacturing and other industries.

"People ask me all the time, what does the state do about job losses? Well, the first thing we do is we've got to do is keep the jobs we've got," Gov. Haley Barbour said Tuesday during a ceremony in his Capitol office.

Barbour used a dozen pens to sign the incentive package into law, handing the pens to legislators, local officials and Cooper Tire representatives.

The Ohio-based company will receive a $7 million building, a $6 million loan and a rebate of up to $6 million for its payroll taxes in Mississippi.

Cooper Tire announced in December that to cut costs, it would close its plant in Albany, Ga., and consolidate operations at its plants in Findlay, Ohio, Texarkana, Ark., and Tupelo, Miss.

The plant in Tupelo, in the northeastern part of the state, makes car and light truck tires.

The incentive package requires the company to maintain at least its current 1,200 jobs in Tupelo.

David Rumbarger, president and chief executive officer of the Tupelo-based Community Development Foundation, said the manufacturing jobs at Cooper Tire pay about $45,000 a year and managers earn more.

Another 600 contract workers perform maintenance and other jobs at the factory. Rumbarger said about 50-100 contract jobs will be added because of the plant expansion.

He said Cooper Tire's employees come from 17 of Mississippi's 82 counties.

"It's our bellwether industry in northeast Mississippi," Rumbarger said.

Toyota Motor Corp. announced in December that it is indefinitely delaying the opening of its Prius manufacturing plant near Tupelo. The plant is mostly built, but the company changed its original 2010 opening date because of a global slump in auto sales.

Cooper Tire makes replacement tires, not the original tires installed by automotive manufacturers. Because of this, Cooper Tire was not slated to be a supplier for the Toyota plant in Mississippi.

Tupelo Mayor Ed Neelly, who traveled to Jackson for the bill signing, said Cooper Tire provides "good jobs with good wages and benefits."

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