WEST POINT, Miss. — The 570-acre field of commercial tire-making dreams that Yokohama Tire Corp. (YTC) transformed into its first U.S. truck tire plant a decade ago certainly has caused its share of sleepless nights.
Building a $300 million greenfield tire plant in the middle of rural Mississippi — at a time when unemployment was said to have eclipsed 20% — is a challenge in the best of times. Throw in machine-related issues, a high turnover rate and operating losses of $164 million in four years, all suffered before a global pandemic, and celebrating a positive milestone at the facility seemed like a pipe dream.
But on Oct. 11, a group of YTC executives, including North American CEO and President Jeff Barna, as well as a group of local dignitaries and the tire trade press, descended on the 1-million-sq.-ft. plant to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the facility's ground-breaking.
After surviving a rough patch — YTC scaled back production expectations in 2018 and took a $102 million "asset impairment charge" against its 2018 third-quarter earnings to account for a reassessment of the profitability for the facility, revealed in a stock exchange filing that year — the West Point plant keeps on truckin'.
Last year, the plant set a production record that the team expects to break again this year. The factory should produce around 800,000 units this year, according to Phillip Calhoun, general manager and vice president of Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi (YTMM), with an additional 25,000 to 30,000 units possible in the future.
The workforce of close to 900 — 1,200 including contractors and vendors — manufactures five sizes of commercial tires (22.5- and 24.5-inch rim diameters), in 43 different SKUs.
Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. recently awarded the plant its Presidents Award as the most efficient of the tire maker's 18 manufacturing plants across the globe. The plant has achieved its yearly production budgets, and its attrition rate has dipped significantly, as the plant embeds itself into the fabric of the community, particularly the youth.
"Like any new plant startup, we have endured our fair share of challenges," Barna said in his presentation, "but we wear them proudly as a reminder that the pursuit of excellence is, and always should be, our unwavering focus."