FINDLAY, OhioAfter being sidetracked for a year by wrangling over its proposed merger with Apollo Tyres Ltd., Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.'s plans for a Global Technical Center (GTC) are back on track.
The $35.5 million GTC will be located at Cooper's headquarters in Findlay along with its existing North America Technical Center (NATC). It ultimately will employ 40 scientists and engineers and is expected to be operational by year-end.
Originally, the tire manufacturer announced plans for its global tech center in February 2013 and received approval from the Ohio Third Frontier Commission with an industrial research and development program grant of $2.8 million.
However, after plans to merge with Apollo were disclosed in May, the project was put on hold.
We put the global tech center on pause while we took stock of what the combined company technical assets were going to look like and how best to structure and execute our technology innovation capabilities under a new combined entity, said Cooper Chairman, CEO and President Roy Armes June 23 during an event in Findlay marking the official announcement of the GTC.
As most of you know, the merger didn't take place. Cooper terminated the merger agreement at the end of 2013, Mr. Armes continued. And with the merger behind us, we promptly went back to our original plans for the global tech center.
The GTC will have a dedicated research and development team, Cooper said, focused on exploring areas such as nanotechnology and new polymers and compounds. The center will be under the direct leadership of Cooper's Global Technical Center Director Curt Selhorst and will support Cooper's NATC as well as the regional technical centers of its subsidiariesthe recently opened Asia Technical Center (ATC) in Kunshan, China, and the Europe Technical Center (ETC) in Melksham, England.
With technical centers on three continents, Cooper had a few options to choose from when determining the location of its GTC.
In the U.S. alone, there are many states competing for this kind of business, Mr. Armes said, on top of different countries.
As we went through that criteria, it really quickly (came) down to Findlay for a lot of reasons, he said.
We have a lot of support from the community and from the government of this state, as well as the support from the government locally here, Mr. Armes said.
Cooper has a rich history in Findlay, he added. Everything added up that made it the location for the GTC. Mr. Armes said other places could have been good, but everything came back to Findlayespecially with its partnerships with local organizations, such as local universities and NASA.
Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik told Tire Business she can't think of a better place than Findlay for research in terms of the tire industry.
We are just happy. This is a wonderful compliment to what Cooper already has established here.
Cooper just hit its 100th anniversary, which is a great time to look into an expansion and for new opportunities, she added, noting the tire maker is obviously committed to the long haul for the next 100 years and the city is happy to be a beneficiary of such a great company.
Ms. Mihalik called Cooper a great corporation that cares a lot about its employees, but also the community that it gets to call home.
Findlay partners with companies by creating an environment that's conducive for a productive investment. So when you're deciding that you want to actually put $35 million into a community, you want to make sure it's a safe community, he said. That it's an environment that's economically friendly, and we feel we provide that environment for companies like Cooper Tire, and we look forward to their success well into the future.
David Mustine, senior managing director at JobsOhioa state-sponsored private jobs-creation entityalso expressed his gratitude for Cooper Tire selecting Findlay as home to its global technical center.
On behalf of Gov. (John) Kasich and my colleagues at JobsOhio we want to thank you and congratulate you on this great project that you've embarked upon, he said during the press conference.
The State of Ohio has committed to support the project with a $2.8 million Third Frontier Industrial Research and Development Center Program grant to be paid over the next several years.
It truly is a very strategic project, Mr. Mustine continued. When I travel around the state and I see a combination of a corporate headquarters, a manufacturing facility and a global technology center all in the same area, that is really a recipe for tremendous innovation and tremendous success to the company.... We had some real stiff competition with your presence in those other markets.
To remain competitive in the tire industry, Cooper has been focused on building its technical capabilities over recent years, Mr. Armes said.
This has enabled us to continue to develop world-class products that distinguish us in the marketplace.
Mr. Armes added that 30 percent of the company's revenue comes from new products, which Cooper defines as developed and introduced within the past two years.
The Cooper of today is now far faster at tire development and leveraging at global scale while meeting local market requirements to make industry-leading products, he said. The global tech center is going to be a key part of those efforts.
Chuck Yurkovich, vice president, global research and development at Cooper, said the focus is on developing 'ready to use' advanced technologies.
Essentially, we are talking about having the right tools in the tool box to expedite product development cycles and the knowledge to use them effectively when we need them.
This enables the company to develop products quickly and efficiently.
Cooper R&D leverages this technology on a global basis to avoid redundancy, he added.
We also design, build and test products regionally to assure that our products meet and exceed regional customer and market expectations.
Mr. Yurkovich said Cooper's vision is to be the industry's most agile and efficient tire organization, delivering innovative, high-quality products to our customers.
The company's three strategic focuses are technological leadership, global leverage and superior customer value. With these goals, Cooper aims to continue to launch world class products, invest in selective innovative technologies and be an efficient tire technical organization, Mr. Yurk-ovich said.
Cooper is working on innovation technologies, such as light-weight, fuel-efficient tires and the development of a domestic source of natural rubber. The tire maker has been awarded government grants in excess of $8.4 million by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he added.
Another focus area for the GTC, he said, is research in the science of tire mechanics and materials physics.
This applied research continually improves our knowledge of how tires perform under different operating conditions and helps us understand how we can create new designs and materials with characteristics that make our tires even better.
The GTC will directly communicate this new technology to its three regional tech centers around the world, Mr. Yurkovich said, and also will embed that knowledge into the company's development tools.
By providing engineers who develop our products with better tools, we will enable them to do a better job and a more effective job, he added.
Cooper said it plans to hire engineers and scientists with advanced degrees with various backgrounds to assist in these high-technology research areas. Mr. Armes said the hiring process has already begun and Cooper is looking to hire 40 employees over the next three to five years.
To reach this reporter: [email protected]; 330-865-6143.