ALCOA breaks ground on $276 million expansion of Tennessee Operations to produce aluminum sheet for auto manufacturers
By Robert Norris | (email@example.com)
A revival was held Thursday in Alcoa in a big tent under a hot sun. The hallelujahs were for the revival of the historic economic keystone of Blount County — ALCOA’s Tennessee Operations.
It was a symbolic groundbreaking where a senator, a congressman, a governor and other dignitaries grabbed shovels and turned earth where ALCOA is turning over a new leaf.
The $276 million expansion of Tennessee Operations to produce aluminum sheet for auto manufacturers will bring jobs back to a location that lost hundreds with the closure of the South Plant smelter. ALCOA Chairman and CEO Klaus Kleinfeld addressed that straight-on.
“As you know, this was a rough time that we’ve gone through,” Kleinfeld said. “A rough time for many of you in Tennessee. Therefore, it is particularly amazing that the spirit, the engagement that we see here in Tennessee is one of the best that we have in the system.”
He noted the company measures “engagement” at its facilities around the world every year. The measurement values commitment and determination and dedication of the workforce. Tennessee Operations scored 89 on a 100-point scale.
“This is one of the best scores that we have all around the world, in spite of the challenges. I think that speaks a lot to the resilience and the attitude, and it’s an amazing testament to what you all really stand for.”
The new cold mill will create an additional 200 full-time jobs in Tennessee once completed by mid-2015. In addition, during construction, an incremental 400 construction jobs will be created at the plant.
Aluminum, already the No. 2 material used to build cars, is expected to nearly double by 2025. By that same year, the need for auto sheet will increase 10-fold. The expansion will convert some of the plant’s can sheet capacity to high-strength automotive aluminum capacity, as well as install incremental automotive capacity.
“If you want to put it into one word — we’re adding cars to cans right here, and that’s going to be our future. You all are going to be part of an amazing renaissance of U.S. manufacturing and the U.S. automotive industry,” Kleinfeld said.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, Blount County native, joined Kleinfeld on the dais. This was not his first ALCOA revival meeting.
Consider these words from a statement prepared by ALCOA: Officials from the Aluminum Company of America today announced a major modernization plan for Tennessee Operations. The plan calls for an initial outlay of approximately $250 million for a variety of projects designed to make fabricating facilities competitive into the 21st century.
The date was Nov. 22, 1983. Hosting the event 30 years ago at the Airport Hilton for the announcement of the new cold mill rolling plant? None other than then Gov. Lamar Alexander.
Speaking then was Tennessee Operations Manager Dick Ray: “This could be the start of a whole new era for ALCOA in this area.”
The great salesmen
There was a déjà vu aura surrounding Thursday’s ceremony at the groundbreaking. Alexander, now the senator, lauded the efforts of Mayor Samuel Everett of Maryville, calling him a “great salesman” who convinced ALCOA executives to build a plant on 700 acres north of the city.
He recalled that his father, Andrew Lamar Alexander, was one of the thousands who hired on at ALCOA. Dick Ray was young Lamar’s scoutmaster, and Lamar attended Vanderbilt University with the help of an ALCOA scholarship.
“Thank you to ALCOA, on behalf of those of us who grew up and live here, for the 100 years of making this an even better place to live — the scholarships, scoutmasters, taxes, schools, better communities. And thank you especially for fitting so expertly into the automotive future of Tennessee that Gov. (Bill) Haslam has so expertly encouraged.”
Haslam returned the compliment. The governor said Alexander’s words “reminded me that we had another good salesman from Blount County, that actually had a part in this happening here today.”
It was Alexander, Haslam reminded the crowd, who wondered why cars sold in the U.S. by foreign manufacturers had to be made overseas.
“So he went to Tokyo and sat in with the folks from Nissan and convinced them to build a plant in Tennessee. And later General Motors built a plant here, and then that helped us lead to Volkswagen. Today, for the last two years, Tennessee has been named the leading automotive manufacturing state in the country.”
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. focused on employment.
“This is such a wonderful thing for ALCOA to bring these jobs here and this facility here, and it means that the future here in East Tennessee will be one of the brightest in the nation,” Duncan said.
After the ceremony Dick Ray, too, was thinking of the employees. He said this day was the best for Tennessee Operations since the announcement 30 years ago.
“It is, by far. The worst day happened when they shut the shelter down. And this is at least getting the people who lost their jobs back to work. That’s the big thing.”
As part of the groundbreaking and the 100th anniversary of Tennessee Operations, ALCOA announced a $50,000 ALCOA Foundation grant to the East Tennessee Historical Society to create an exhibit at the Museum of East Tennessee History on the past, present and future of manufacturing, “100 Years of Manufacturing in East Tennessee: and a Look Ahead at the Next 100 Years.”