QUINCY, Ill.-After months of economic arm wrestling, Brownsville, Texas, has won the bragging rights as the location of the new off-highway tire manufacturing facility Titan Wheel International Inc.'s Titan Tire Corp. plans to build. In the end, the decision by Titan Wheel President and CEO Maurice ``Morry'' Taylor Jr. to go to Texas, announced Oct. 17, came down to which city and state-Brownsville, or its competitor for the site, Lake Charles, La.-offered the more lucrative package of tax breaks and incentives.
Mr. Taylor also told TIRE BUSINESS that within 60 to 90 days, Titan will open a new tire design center in the greater Akron area.
Then, acknowledging that the company also is in need of production capacity in Europe, he hinted: ``Stay tuned. We're either going to buy, and if we're not successful, we will build a plant there. I've got my eye on some things, and in the next (three months) we'll kind of shock a lot of people.''
All these activities are part of a concerted attempt by Titan to reach Mr. Taylor's announced goal: ``To be No. 1 in the farm/construction tire business worldwide. We've got to take care of the U.S. first; then the rest will fall (into place). We'll do that, because it's our core business and we're the only tire manufacturer in the world'' with that segment as its core.
Brownsville, the eastern Texas town a stone's throw across the Rio Grande River from Mexico, will soon become ``Grizzly'' country through the efforts of Texas Gov. George W. Bush and a number of other state and city officials who successfully wooed Titan Tire.
The company, which recently trotted out a new mascot-a punkish-looking grizzly bear-and an ad campaign publicizing its ``new attitude in American tires,'' plans to break ground in early November for its third tire plant, as well as a large figure-eight test track.
The 1 million-sq.-ft. factory, on a 186-acre tract between Brownsville and the neighboring city of Harlingen, will produce tires for use in agricultural, construction and specialty applications.
Titan also has a tire plant in Des Moines, Iowa, that makes agricultural and construction tires, and a Clinton, Tenn., plant for smaller diameter industrial, all-terrain vehicle, trailer and grounds care tires.
Mr. Taylor-the 52-year-old native Detroiter who's known as ``The Grizz,'' in part due to his brash, aggressive negotiating style and sometimes slash-and-burn economic ideas-said the new factory will be built in stages, with first production anticipated by July 1997.
``We're looking at close to a $100 million investment from what we're throwing in and what the great state of Texas has contributed,'' he said, adding that the facility should generate annual revenue of $200 million to $250 million.
Texas created what Mr. Taylor called a special ``enterprise free-trade'' zone for the plant. But he would not specify what tax breaks were offered nor how much they were worth, choosing instead to thank Gov. Bush and various officials for being ``very fair. You don't get away from paying the school taxes, and I don't mind that. But the state gave up a lot of the other taxes they come after you for-all the hidden stuff,'' such as franchise and inventory taxes.
``We got everything you could possibly ask for. They were very accommodating.''
``It's nice to find somebody who wants a tire plant,'' he added.
``It's a lot different than in Iowa,'' he said. ``Iowa tries to run you out of business....''
Sounding at times like he was still running for president, Mr. Taylor-who earlier this year mounted an unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination-defended receiving economic breaks from Texas.
That, despite stump speeches where he decried the ``welfare state,'' often accused government workers of being lackadaisical, and said if elected he would balance the budget by slashing one-third of the government workforce.
No, he is not taking a government handout, he stated. ``I'll get it in tax concessions.... But for all the taxes (we pay), they ought to turn around and just give it back to everybody, because the government takes too much now.''
Although Lake Charles tried to lure Titan with an offer basically worth about the same, Mr. Taylor said he chose Brownsville ``because we're the No. 1 farm tire in Mexico. It's a big market and also gives us the whole southwest....''
The new plant will employ from 500 to 700 workers, with the majority new hires. That's good news for Brownsville, where unemployment is running between 18 and 20 percent, Mr. Taylor said, not counting the many Mexican workers who cross the border looking for jobs.
Mr. Taylor said he could have located the plant across the river in Mexico and ``saved myself $20 million a year'' due to cheaper wages, ``but I didn't do that.''
As far as production capacity at Brownsville, Mr. Taylor could not pin down a number because the plant will make Titan-brand bias and radial tires in various sizes, from 10-inch all-terrain up to 60-inch farm tires, and from 24- to 33-inch off-the-road tires.
The buyers of farm, construction and specialty tires ``get the raw end of the stick,'' he contended. ``The big boys (tire makers) don't really pay attention to them....
``But we have 182 new tires coming out. Add up Bridgestone, Goodyear and Michelin worldwide, and they don't have that many total new tires worldwide in this (off-highway) range.''
Calling itself ``America's newest tire company,'' Titan's grizzly advertising campaign includes TV spots currently running in selected rural areas and due for nationwide exposure after the first of the year. Ads in trade publications are soliciting dealers to consider Titan ``when choosing your brand of off-highway tires.''
Mr. Taylor said he has received ``lots of calls'' from dealers.
``No one has ever gone on TV,'' he noted, ``and advertised farm tires the way we're doing.''