Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo

Cooper Tire damage evaluation ongoing; Super Sagless back at work

By Dennis Seid

TUPELO – While the 1,700 employees at Cooper Tire anxiously await word on when they can return to work, the 220 employees at Super Sagless are back on the job.

A severe, possibly tornadic storm roared through Tupelo late Friday night, ripping away a portion of the roof at Cooper Tire, which employs 1,700 people. Across from the Cooper Tire plant, on South Green Street, furniture supplier Super Sagless had one its buildings destroyed.

A spokesperson for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., the company parent of Cooper Tire, said in an email that the extent of the damage to their facility is still being assessed.

"We are currently evaluating the extent of the impact of the tornado on the facility; we have nothing further to share," the spokesperson said.

On Saturday, Cooper Tire manufacturing director Colby Clodfelter said cleanup efforts would continue over the weekend and into this week.

"We have some structural engineers looking at any other possible damage," Clodfelter said. 

Clodfelter said damage to the plant's roof was obvious, and photos of the exterior taken earlier in the day also showed loading dock doors blown open and some truck trailers blown into each other on the east side of the building. Debris from Cooper, from the building at Super Sagless that was destroyed across the street and elsewhere was strewn across the sprawling property bounded by Eason Boulevard, South Green Street and U.S. Highway 45.

Brooks Hamilton, vice president for Leggett & Platt the parent company of Super Sagless, said the facility was back at work this morning.

"We had a portion damaged Friday night, but everybody was safe, which most important thing," he said. "The focus has been restarting in our other buildings. The majority of the building that was damaged was finished goods, and we're working to replenish that."

David Rumbarger, president and CEO of the Community Development Foundation, was set to meet with Cooper and other officials on Monday to discuss recovery plans.

"We're looking at several things to support the company and employees," Rumbarger. "There's a process we have to go through, and the companies are still assessing and forming their plans."

A disaster declaration from FEMA would release money right way to help, and Rumbarger said there are various tools in place that could also come into play, including displaced worker funds.

Hamilton said the response was quick to help get the Super Sagless plant back up and running.

"The community, CDF, the city of tupelo, the power company — all gave us overwhelming help," he said. "We would not be back here today without their help."

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith visited the Cooper Tire plant on Monday. She said she is committed to working with state and federal leaders to make sure federal resources are available to the Tupelo tire company. 

"I recognize the longstanding and incredible impact that Cooper Tire has in Tupelo and the more than 1,700 employees and North Mississippi families who have been affected directly by this disaster," Hyde-Smith said. "It is a top priority for my office that Cooper Tire and its employees get back on their feet as soon as possible.”

In a press release, the CDF recognized Cooper for "offering many technical and professional careers and having a significant long-term impact on the Tupelo economy. Leaders are working together with a commitment to safeguarding these career opportunities."

City of Tupelo Mayor Todd Jordan said the city is working dilligently to restore power to Cooper Tire.

"This premier employer has been a long-standing partner with the city of Tupelo for many years and we are committed to ensuring its future success in Tupelo," the mayor said.

On Saturday night, Clodfelter gave a quick briefing to U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, who had visited DeSoto County and Pontotoc County earlier in the day to see the storm damage there. Joining Wicker were several city officials.

"We'll be encouraging them to work with their insurance companies, but I know the CDF and economic development folks will ensure that we don't lose any workforce, and they'll be back to work as soon as possible," Wicker said.

Damage across the city was limited to mostly manufacturing plants and mostly in the southern portion of the city. Officials estimated initial damage of some 16 buildings – mostly commercial – valued at $14 million.

At Cooper, some 300 workers were in the plant when the tornado hit Friday night. Clodfelter said they had about a 15-minute window to get all the employees to shelters.

"The team here did an excellent job making sure everyone was safe during the storm," he said. "That's the most important thing for us."

Both Cooper and Super Sagless have long histories in the city.

The Super Sagless Hardware operation in Tupelo opened in 1955 and was the first furniture parts company to open in the city.

Cooper Tire opened in 1984, but the history of the facility goes back further. It was originally a Penn Tire plant, built in 1959. Penn went out of business, and Cooper Tire bought the building in 1984. The first tire was made in December of that year, but the plant was officially dedicated until Sept. 19, 1985.