WEST POINT, Miss. – Yokohama made history earlier this week when it held a grand opening for its first-ever US-built tire plant in West Point, Mississippi on October 5.
Nearly 300 guests and dignitaries attended the festive event that showcased the new facility – called Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi (YTMM) – with guided plant tours, a catered lunch and grand opening ceremony.
In addition, several Yokohama executives from Japan flew in for the milestone event and treated guests to a kagami biraki – a traditional Japanese sake ceremony where a sake barrel is broken by wooden mallets to signify harmony and good fortune.
The new $300 million tire facility is one of the largest Yokohama manufacturing plants ever, coming in at a whopping 1 million square feet and is a major feat for the company that no longer has to source tires overseas for its North American customers.
The Kagami Biraki ceremony. L to R: Joe Max Higgins, CEO of the Golden Triangle Development Link; Tadaharu Yamamoto, president of YTMM; Takaharu Fushimi, CEO of Yokohama Corporation of North America & Yokohama Tire Corporation; Hikomitsu Noji, president and representative director of The Yokohama Rubber Co.; Masami Kinefuchi, consul-general of Japan in Nashville; Phil Bryant, governor of Mississippi; Tate Reeves, Mississippi Lieutenant Governor; Robbie Robinson, Mayor of West Point; Trent Kelly, US congressman; and Glenn McCullough, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA).
“The manufacturing plant was specifically designed to serve as the manufacturing centre of our commercial tires exclusively for use in North America,” said Takaharu Fushimi, CEO of Yokohama Corporation of North America and Yokohama Tire Corporation. “I am honoured to be part of such a milestone, one that clearly tells our commercial tire partners that Yokohama is committed to the market. Based on our extensive research on the commercial tire market in North America, as well our company’s continued growth in this segment, this was definitely the right time to build a new plant and Mississippi was absolutely the right place to do it. What this modern plant will mean to our customers, simply put, is they will get what they want when they want, as product will no longer travel across land and sea to reach them. Now the tires they need will literally be a call away. Our commercial tire customers can be assured that Yokohama is here to stay for the long haul as their business partners.”
Hikomitsu Noji, president and representative director of Yokohama Rubber Co. echoed Fushimi’s thoughts and added that expanding the company’s manufacturing capacity into North America is crucial to Yokohama’s success.
“It is no longer sufficient to source tires from existing manufacturing plants around the world,” he said. “In short, supply will have to come from where our customers are and (we will have to) be able to provide specific products that the North American market demands.”
Though the new building is capable of making almost every tire in the Yokohama product lineup, it was designed to manufacture commercial tires (steer, drive and trailer) exclusively for its truck and bus customers in North America, according to company executives.
Tadaharu Yamamoto, who moved to Mississippi when he was appointed president of YTMM said the location of the new plant was a perfect selection.
“After a year long extensive search which included 3,000 potential counties in the continental US, West Point, Mississippi was chosen for the site,” he said. “We picked Mississippi for a variety of reasons including cost of operations and the strong dedicated workforce. Then on September 23, 2013, we broke ground.”
More than 1,200 workers transformed the more than 500 acres of land to build new facility in just over 24 months – making it one of the company’s fastest plant builds. In August 2014, the plant mixed its first rubber, and then in April 2015 the first pre-production tire rolled off the assembly line. And at the company’s grand opening, Yamamoto announced that the plant is ready for mass production and said at full capacity the plant is expected to produce 1 million tires annually.
Among the dignitaries who attended the event was Mississippi governor Phil Bryant who was incredibly grateful Yokohama chose the state for its first US tire plant.
“Each governor has the opportunity of being part of something special. And this is the star in this administration’s universe,” he said of YTMM. “It is one that we brag about. It is one that we brag about when I travel across the country. It is the one that other governors are getting bored about hearing. I tell them just how close we are to opening that facility and how many people will be hired. We’re on our way to 500 people being hired just in this phase.”
The new, state-of-the-art YTMM plant.
To date, YTMM has hired 260 employees to get the plant up and running, and estimates that number will reach well over 500, which is great news for West Point as the city doesn’t exactly have an abundance of job opportunities as of late.
“Clay County has the second highest unemployment rate in the state of Mississippi,” Bryant continued. “Now 500 families will be able to live the American dream right here in their own hometown in Mississippi because of the great Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi. We wanted this company to realize this partnership was not just another economic building project. It is the star that shines brightly for us here in Mississippi that we can be proud of for generations and generations. Generations will look to this day when Yokohama and Mississippi began something very special and it will continue I hope for another 100 years.”
Not only was the location right for Yokohama but the timing was too, said Rick Phillips, vice-president of sales for Yokohama Tire Corporation.
“The economy isn’t really hot but it is positive and it’s moving in the right direction, it’s steady,” he said. “People are spending a lot of money and it’s creating a very healthy environment for the trucking industry. If you need proof of that, just look at what’s going on with class 8 truck sales. According to our friends at the ATA class 8 trucks in service are expected to grow from 3.5 million to 4 million trucks in the next ten years. All these trucks mean more tires on the road.”
Phillips added that by sourcing the tires locally for its North American customers means the company’s speed to market will improve significantly.
“Our lead time will go from a few months sourcing tires offshore to a few days sourcing here in Mississippi,” he said, adding that its customers are very excited about the new facility. “It’s going to give us a lot more flexibility to adapt and change the market.”
Yokohama invited trucking industry media to attend the event and tour the massive and immaculate tire plant that assembles commercial tires from beginning to end – from raw materials to the final curing process – where no outside materials are used. Guests got to watch as machines lifted and moved tires from station to station.
As well, attendees got a look at the automated guided vehicles (AGVs) the plant uses to transport tires materials around the facility.
The AGVs are new to Yokohama as a whole and according to the company, the investment was made for many reasons including safety precautions.
“There are fewer reported incidents in plants using AGVs than there are using fork lift operators,” a plant representative said during the tour of the new facility.
The plant is still only in phase one – meaning it won’t be producing tires at full capacity just yet – though its plan for future phases has already been laid out, explained YTMM representatives.
The grand opening event, according to Yokohama executives, was a success and they were proud to show off the new facility that means good things for both the company and the state. Yokohama ended its grand opening ceremony by announcing its newest project – the building a brand new office unit for YTMM employees – that is set to be completed by the end of 2016.