QUINCY, Ill. (Jan. 19, 2001)—Titan International Inc.´s Natchez, Miss., tire plant may be downgraded to a rubber mixing facility if an expected recession takes hold this year.
The Natchez factory, which manufactures farm and industrial tires, may see the biggest changes of any Titan facility as company officials take a hard look at the firm´s tire operations. Maurice Taylor Jr., the company´s president and CEO, and other executives were in Natchez earlier this month and plan to go to the Brownsville, Texas, tire plant within a week or two, Mr. Taylor said.
Natchez is the likely location to reduce tire production because it is older than the Brownsville operation and has less capacity than Titan´s main farm tire facility in Des Moines, Iowa, Mr. Taylor said.
Titan´s CEO said he wants $250 million to $260 million in revenues among his three tire plants in 2001.
The company´s fourth-quarter and year-end financial results are due near the end of the month. The tire and wheel maker is trying to improve on the $7.45 million loss it incurred for the third quarter of 2000 and the $11.4 million loss for all of 1999.
Des Moines actually has ramped up in the past nine months, increasing capacity and employment. Mr. Taylor said the facility has about 600 production workers, compared with about 400 in April.
In the meantime, the Natchez and Brownsville plants have cut employment. During a March 2000 media tour of the Brownsville factory, Mr. Taylor said he had about 230 production workers, while Operations Manager Russell Ash said Jan. 16 the work force was down to about 150 people.
During a round of layoffs in Brownsville last summer, Mr. Ash cited the troubled agricultural market, with low crop prices and drought translating into reduced equipment and tire sales, as a major factor. Mr. Taylor also said there was overhiring at the Brownsville factory.
But Mr. Ash said the plant has added several pieces of machinery—including a 1,200-hp boiler—in the past six months. The facility also has continued a rebuilding operation for presses and other equipment for all three tire operations.
Quincy-based Titan has said it expects the factory to produce about 550,000 pounds of tires per day and employ about 600 when it completes its multiphase implementation in 2002. The Brownsville facility makes tires for vehicles such as garden tractors, golf carts, graders and skid-steer loaders, Mr. Ash said.
In Natchez, the company laid off 20 temporary and probationary employees Jan. 10. David Fines, operations manager in Natchez, wouldn´t comment on the number of employees now in the plant or whether more layoffs are coming until some business decisions are made.
Leo T. Bradley, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 303, whose members have been on strike at the Natchez factory since Sept. 15, 1998, said sources inside the plant told him there are 160-180 bargaining unit employees in the facility. That number is down from about 200 a year ago.
If the tire business holds for Titan, Natchez would keep excess production when needed, Mr. Taylor said. If not, some equipment likely would be shipped to Brownsville or Des Moines.
The questions remaining leave Natchez´s work force in limbo. If the factory is reduced to a mixing facility or warehouse, as few as 50 people may be needed to operate it, Mr. Bradley said.
Titan´s Des Moines and Brownsville tire plants also currently operate with non-union employees. Local 164 in Des Moines has been on strike since May 1, 1998, while Brownsville was opened as a non-union facility.