WEST POINT, Miss.—Yokohama Tire Corp. opened a $300 million commercial tire plant in West Point Oct. 5 as more than 300 dignitaries and guests marked the occasion.
The first ceremonial tire rolled out in April at the 1 million-sq.-ft. plant, Yokohama's largest in the U.S., and the facility is expected to reach full capacity of 1 million truck and bus tires annually—about 3,000 units per day—by 2018, YTC officials said.
The factory, designated Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi, will produce mainly four core sizes of 22.5- and 24.5-inch truck and bus steer, drive and trailer tires for the North American original equipment and replacement markets. The tire maker, which broke ground on the plant two years ago, said the facility shows its OEM customers that “Yokohama is committed to this mar-ket-place.”
What the project means to the company's tire dealer customers is that “the tires they need will literally be a call away,” Takahuru Fushimi, CEO of Yokohama Corp. of North America—an entity that oversees all Yokohama-related operations in North America—told journalists during a news conference.
“I've been in the industry for over 35 years, seen a lot of ups and downs, and if we were ever going to pick a time to open a factory, right now is not a bad time,” said Rick Phillips, vice president of sales for YTC. “The economy is not really hot but it is positive. It is moving in the right direction. It's steady, and people are spending a lot of money, and it's creating a very healthy environment for the trucking industry. ... There's a lot of demand in the OE channel, and there's also going to be a lot of demand in the replacement channel over the next few years.”
Producing the tires locally will help to improve Yokohama's lead time, bringing it down from months when tires were sourced offshore to just a few days for those made in Mississippi, according to Phillips.
“It's going to give us a lot more flexibility to adapt to a changing market to make sure we have the right product mix, with the right tires, in the right place at the right time,” he said. “Our vision for this company very simply is to be the best tire supplier in the industry. The efficiencies we're going to gain from this factory are certainly going to keep us on the right path.”
Yokohama said the plant thus far is operating around-the-clock shifts with about 265 employees. It plans to reach a non-union work force of 500 by year-end 2017. The plant, built on more than 500 acres of land, houses manufacturing, warehousing and operations facilities.
During the grand opening ceremony, Yokohama officials announced that the company will construct an office building on the plant site that will be finished by year-end 2016.
Yokohama officials said the plant will enable the firm eventually to phase out its sourcing of truck tires from the GTY Tire joint venture facility in Mount Vernon, Ill., where the company shares production with Continental Tire the Americas L.L.C.
The Mississippi plant's opening marks Yokohama's completion of Phase I of construction at the site. If demand increases in the future, the tire maker said it will consider implementing a Phase II expansion project there.
Yokohama still will source some types of commercial tires offshore, Phillips said, but as production ramps up at the West Point plant, more tires will be produced domestically and fewer offshore.
“The grand opening of our first U.S.-built plant is truly a historic day for Yokohama,” said Tadaharu Yamamoto, president of YTMM. “Thanks to Gov. Bryant, the great state of Mississippi, the entire community of West Point, the Golden Triangle Region and the incredible Mississippi work force, the plant site was developed to a fully operational state-of-the-art facility in record time.”
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said the state invested $70 million for infrastructure and worker training for the Phase I project, plus $20 million for access road construction.
The state legislature also approved an additional $130 million for future expansion at the site.
Clay County, which includes West Point, contributed about $9.5 million to the project.
“Phase I of YTMM is ready for mass production,” Yamamoto said. “It took only a little over 24 months to build a plant from scratch. It's one of Yokohama's fastest built factories, and I attribute much of that to Mississippi's quality work force.”
Plans to build its own truck tire plant in the U.S. began in 2012 after a year-long search for a site that included 3,000 counties in the continental U.S., he said.
West Point was chosen for a number of reasons, he added, including cost of operations, a strong, dedicated work force and enthusiasm from the community.
The company broke ground at the site on Sept. 23, 2013, and the following year began installing production equipment. Last April, the first production tire came off the line.
Officials said they were pleased that construction took only two years to complete, despite two very wet winters and port disruptions due to strikes earlier this year.
The construction project included four miles of new water line, three miles of sewer line, a 1 million-gallon water tower, two miles of new railroad to the plant site, an electrical substation dedicated to the plant and a new four-mile industrial access road.