West Point’s Yokohama Tire Company plant met only about half of its expected tire production goal in 2018, with company officials pushing the blame primarily to employee turnover and facility issues.
The Golden Triangle Development LINK, however — which helped recruit the plant to the region — is pointing the finger back at the company.
Yokohama released its third-quarter results for 2018, which stated the manufacturer’s plan to produce 973,000 tires at West Point in 2018 was well short, producing only 500,000. The report cites insufficient education and training for employees due to its “high turnover rate,” as well as production inefficiencies at its $300 million, 1 million square-foot facility.
Bill Groak, public relations director for Yokohama’s U.S. operations, said the West Point plant currently employs 660. He did not comment specifically on the plant’s turnover rate or elaborate on the facility deficiencies when speaking with The Dispatch.
“Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi, LLC. (YTMM) remains committed to producing world-class products for our customers, as well as a responsible member of the community,” Groak said in an emailed statement.
In a statement of its own, the LINK fired back at Yokohama’s claims, pointing to other area industries that are thriving.
“Consequently, while Yokohama cites employee turnover and lack of training as part of the reason for its production shortfalls, such problems appear uniquely applicable to Yokohama,” the LINK statement reads. “… Our other industries are apparently taking the right approaches at this time to both hire, train and retain their most vital assets–their people.”
According to the LINK statement, companies such as Steel Dynamics, PACCAR, Stark Aerospace, Airbus Helicopters and International Paper have continued to expand both their facilities and production, all while maintaining a less than 2-percent employee turnover rate.
“We have been informed on numerous occasions over the past four years about personnel issues at the company’s West Point facility,” the LINK statement reads. “… We cannot speak to exactly what has caused Yokohama’s workforce woes over the past few years, but we do know the company is now on its third Human Resources Director in just four years of operation. So, it appears, at least to us, that Yokohama’s revised plant expectations arise from Yokohama internal management and operational issues and not as a result of any regional workforce problem.”
The LINK statement also says representatives from Yokohama meet with the LINK “from time to time” but do not share general workforce information.
“We are hopeful that Yokohama can determine what internal changes need to be made so that it can also succeed in the Golden Triangle,” the statement reads. “The LINK remains ready and willing to offer and coordinate whatever assistance we can bring to bear to make that happen.”
Yokohama opened its first of a planned four-phase operation in West Point in 2015. Each phase estimated adding 500 employees with the entire project slated for completion by 2023. To date, only one phase has been finished, however, with no clear plans on when subsequent phases will be built.
The company fell victim to a minor employment scandal in July 2018, when it terminated 19 workers for producing fraudulent WorkKeys certificates to gain employment. Yokohama requires employee candidates to complete the WorkKeys exam — produced by ACT — to identify manufacturing and other work skills, and only hires those who achieve certain score levels.
Also last summer, a Yokohama official told Columbus Rotary Club the plant had adapted its work schedule to combat turnover, allowing employees to work day or night shift for longer periods before switching.
Scott Alsobrooks, president at East Mississippi Community College, hopes its Communiversity — a multi-million dollar manufacturing training facility slated to open in Lowndes County in August — will help Yokohama’s turnover by producing candidates with skills tailored to the company’s needs.
In any case, Alsobrooks said, producing enough skilled manufacturers to meet demand is a national issue, not just a Golden Triangle one.
“I don’t really know a lot about the Yokohama issue,” Alsobrooks said. “We try to do a lot of prep-work to get people into those fields. I do know that it’s a national issue. It’s just a worker shortage in general in the manufacturing trade. We need to encourage more students to go that route. The jobs are really good. Yokohama is a good company. One of our main efforts at East Mississippi Community College is help spread that word.
“The whole premise behind (the Communiversity) is to bring in people to train and educate them for advanced manufacturing,” he added. “That’s what our goal is and that’s the emphasis of East Mississippi Community College. (We want) to create a really good pipeline for Yokohama and PACCAR and other industries. We want to keep relevant programs to prepare those who choose to go that route, so they will be prepared for those entry level jobs at Yokohama, or wherever they choose to be.”
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