Cooper Tire Thrives in Texarkana

Scott Cole, plant manager, said Cooper is investing in Texarkana.
Scott Cole, plant manager, said Cooper is investing in Texarkana. (Mark Friedman)
Cooper Tire & Rubber's Texarkana plant employs about 2,000 workers.
Cooper Tire & Rubber's Texarkana plant employs about 2,000 workers. (Mark Friedman)

The Great Recession was a low point in the 101-year history of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.

The Findlay, Ohio, tire manufacturer announced in 2008 that it was closing its facility at Albany, Georgia, leaving only three U.S. plants: at its headquarters and in Texarkana and Tupelo, Mississippi.

However, the move to shutter its plant in Georgia, which employed about 1,400 workers, ended up benefiting the Texarkana plant.

In 2009, Cooper announced it was adding 200 workers to the Miller County facility and extending its operation from five days a week to become a 24/7 operation. It now employs nearly 2,000 workers, most of whom are members of the United Steelworkers Local 752L, making Cooper Tire one of Arkansas’ largest employers.

And success continued. On March 6, 2013, the 350 millionth tire was made at the plant, which opened in 1964.

“The Texarkana plant kind of breaks the mold with what’s going on in the United States with manufacturing,” Scott Cole, the plant manager, told Arkansas Business in a conference room at the plant. “We’re a unionized plant that’s growing and the company’s investing in. And to do that, you have to have a strong workforce, and I think we have that here.”

The publicly traded company reported $3.4 billion in sales in 2014, down less than a half-percent from 2013. But its net income jumped 77.2 percent in 2014 to $236.8 million.

Cooper’s goal is to have $6 billion in revenue with a 12 percent operating profit by 2020, Curtis Schneekloth, Cooper’s warehouse manager, told Arkansas Business. “And the Texarkana plant is a huge piece of reaching that, ‘huge’ being my word,” he said.

The plant will face challenges, though, such as finding workers and remaining competitive in the global market.

To keep a lid on expenses, the plant has become greener, which has saved money and won praise. Between 2007 and 2009, the plant achieved more than $1.6 million in savings through its energy conservation efforts, the company said.

And in 2009, Cooper’s Texarkana plant was selected as the first and only tire manufacturer to “earn the highly prized Energy Star Partner designation” from the U.S. Department of Energy, the company said. The Texarkana plant received recognition in 2012 for improving energy performance by more than 10 percent over the past three years.

The Plant

Cooper opened its Texarkana plant on Sept. 21, 1964, turning out bias tires, which is a cross-ply construction. In the 1970s, the plant converted to a radial-ply tire plant. In radial tires, the cord plies are placed side-by-side, perpendicular to where the tire touches the road. The plant converted from making automobile tires to tires for SUVs and lights trucks in the mid-1990s.

At one time, the Texarkana plant manufactured about 40,000 tires a day, Cole said. “But as the tires get bigger, they take longer to cure, and so we don’t make near that much product as we used to,” he said.

The company declined to offer many details about the plant and declined to allow a reporter to tour the floor of the plant, citing competitive concerns.

Inside the 2 million-SF plant, equal to more than 10 Wal-Mart Supercenters, workers now make predominantly light truck, SUV, automobile tires and winter tires.

Making a tire is “a much more complex process than anybody who hasn’t seen it would ever guess,” Schneekloth said.

Natural and synthetic rubbers are shipped to the plant, and Cooper uses about 35 different rubber compounds, steel and fabric in assembling a tire, Cole said. After the rubber is mixed, the components are built into the tire. The tires are then cured.

“There’s a process that finishes the tires, quality inspects them and prepares them for distribution,” Schneekloth said. “And then they’re shipped to our customers.”

Cole said the tire is one of the most underappreciated of products. “You think what a tire goes through: 80 miles per hour down the road, hitting potholes, curbs, and they hold together,” he said. “There’s a lot of engineering work that goes on to develop tires.”

The Texarkana location is the only plant in Cooper’s portfolio of eight plants around the world that can make the three-ply tires, which are the 33- to 40-inch tires used for off-road vehicles. Some of the tires weigh more than 100 pounds. It can also manufacture one-ply tires, for passenger vehicles, and two-ply, for SUVs or light trucks.

From start to finish, a tire can be made within a day.

Most of the tires made at the Texarkana plant are sold in North America, but some are sold to other companies around the world, Cole said. Cooper’s largest customers are wholesalers, private brand clients and independent dealers, Schneekloth said.

In 2006, Cooper began renovating the Texarkana plant so its production levels could “flex” to meet tire demand, according to the company. The $3.5 million project was completed in the third quarter of 2007, just as the Great Recession was about to begin.

The Great Recession took some air out of Cooper. “United States manufacturers have come under intense pressure in recent years from increased lower-priced imports and softening domestic demand for products,” Cooper Tire said in a 2008 news release.


After the announcement that Cooper’s Georgia plant was closing, Cooper’s Texarkana plant grew. “Responding to a growing market demand for its products the operations will shift to a 24/7 operation,” a news release said.

In 2010, the U.S. Commerce Department announced a $1 million grant to the city of Texarkana to improve the industrial access road serving the Cooper plant. The Commerce Department news release said Cooper had invested $18 million in 2010.

A spokeswoman for Cooper said the company is expected to invest $195 million to $205 million this year across all of its plants, but wouldn’t say specifically how much the Texarkana plant would receive.

“We’re investing all across the plant to make us more efficient, safer,” Cole said. “We need to invest in automation, … so we can compete with the low-cost countries.”

But the company doesn’t see mass layoffs with the automation. “You don’t flip a light switch and eliminate 100 jobs and have to lay people off,” Cole said. “That’s not what we’re doing.”

He said jobs could be added in connection with the automation. “So we feel like it’s going to be more of a wash long term,” Cole said.

In the meantime, Cooper Tire is working to persuade students to pursue a career in manufacturing. Plant officials in October spoke to about 1,200 eighth-graders in Texarkana schools about the benefits of working in the industry. A Cooper employee can make more than $60,000 annually just five years after graduating from high school.

And the days of manufacturing being dirty, repetitive work are gone, said Dan Bates, Cooper’s human resources manager. “The truth of the matter is, in companies, and here at this plant, there’s a lot of technical type jobs, advanced electronic type jobs,” Bates said. “It’s not the grunt work of the past.”

Cole said he’s most proud of the changes the plant has made over the years to continue to keep its door open.

“The political environment and the tire business are changing year by year,” he said. “We’re able to be nimble enough to keep up with the changes and react quick enough to remain competitive.”