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VOL. 128 | NO. 188 | Thursday, September 26, 2013

Bryant Touts Delta as Auto Epicenter

By Bill Dries

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A different kind of Detroit comparison was made in the Mississippi Delta this week.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant was in Tunica this week to announce the new Feuer Powertrain plant in the county, the second announcement of an automobile supplier this week in the Delta. Bryant said the Delta is becoming the epicenter of a Southern auto manufacturing corridor.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

It’s a comparison to Detroit’s golden age as the center of the U.S auto industry instead of its later decline and recent fiscal insolvency.

“What we’re trying to do is develop a Southern automobile corridor that passes through Mississippi,” Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said Tuesday, Sept. 24, as he and executives of Feuer Powertrain announced the German company would build a $140 million crankshaft factory in Tunica County.

Bryant made the announcement on a rainy day inside the Tunica Riverpark building the day after he was in West Point, Miss., to announce Yokohama Tire Corp. will build a $300 million manufacturing plant there to make commercial truck tires.

The Feuer plant will employ 300 and open fully in early 2015. Yokohama will employ 500 in its first phase and open in late 2015.

The two companies are referred to by those in manufacturing as OEMs – original equipment manufacturers – who supply equipment to other companies to incorporate in their products.

“Mississippi now has two OEMs here and other automotive suppliers will come to this area because it is more convenient to serve them here,” said Lyn Arnold, Tunica County Economic Foundation president.

Arnold began getting requests for information from site consultants in October 2012 with Feuer executives from Nordhausen, Germany, making their first site visit in February.

The presence of the two companies in North Mississippi is more than what Bryant termed “a new wave of high-tech manufacturing” in the state. It is a result of car plants in or near Tupelo, Miss., Birmingham, Ala., and Chattanooga, Tenn. In July, Nissan North America unveiled plans to add a million square feet of manufacturing space to its Canton, Miss., plant and make Canton the global manufacturing center in 2014 for its Murano crossover vehicles.

“We are at the epicenter, if you will, of the future of automobile manufacturing in America,” Bryant said. “That’s a very good place for us to be. And we will announce more of it. We have more suppliers in our plan in the near future.”

The ripple effect from auto manufacturing was touted back in the 1980s when Tennessee and other Southern states made their first serious bids for auto plants like the Spring Hill, Tenn., plant that made Saturn automobiles.

It was a pursuit that Bryant, whose father was a diesel mechanic in Moorhead, Miss., watched from outside the political arena.

“We allow people and companies to find the best location for them. But I understand we need jobs in the Delta – manufacturing jobs,” he said this week in Tunica. “We have been talking for generations … why can’t we get more manufacturing in the Delta. We’re bringing it here. I understand there is a workforce here and there are opportunities for us.”

Those opportunities aren’t just limited to auto plants that turn out the finished product. They include lining up with other suppliers. Executives from Cummins Inc., whose Memphis operation distributes its engines, were in Tunica for the Feuer announcement.

“Cummins will use the power trains manufactured here in Tunica County in a partnership business-to-business relationship with Nissan to put them in their new Tundra automobiles,” Bryant said. “If that Cummins manufacturing engine plant was here in Mississippi they wouldn’t have to ship it out. We’re going to talk more about that.”

The state of Mississippi is helping with funding for infrastructure improvements to prepare the Tunica site for construction of the plant itself.

The Tunica site at Miss. 304 and Kirby Road represents the first U.S. manufacturing operations for the company founded in 2002.

Company founder Dieter Feuer talked in Tunica of his life in Nordhausen when the city was part of East Germany and his pursuit of business ideals inspired by America after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.

Feuer has five plants in Nordhausen and the company makes 1 million crankshafts annually.

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