The pop-top days are history at Arconic in Alcoa. The last of the aluminum can sheet made at Tennessee Operations rolled out of the cold mill in December.
Now the plant has more than $100 million in pocket and at least 70 new jobs on the way.
On Wednesday, the only popping of beverages going on at the offices by the North Plant on North Wright Road was of the champagne variety.
Not really; nobody got sprayed locker-room style. Safety first, always. But the spirit was celebratory, for certain.
And why not. Arconic Inc.’s commitment isn’t just to a new era beyond can packaging, it’s bringing TN Ops back to its roots.
A century ago, when ALCOA Inc. was exploring the potential of this miracle metal called aluminum, the company was on the cutting edge of metallurgy and its processes. All sorts of products were possible. Over time, market forces squeezed the product into can sheet, a single product, a sliver of aluminum’s prospects.
Jeff Weida, plant manager at Tennessee Operations, puts it in perspective. This turning of the corner is a process that’s been underway for a while. The old business was — well — old. They’d perfected can sheet. OK. Now what? If Tennessee Operations was to survive it had to evolve.
There’s a sign above Weida’s workspace in his corner office that says it all in a shorthand: NEXTGENTN 3.0.
Tennessee Operations is entering its third generation, and Weida — trained as an engineer, not a financial guru or marketing guy — is excited about it.
“We clearly now have exited the can sheet business. We were a single alloy plant, with a few minor variations, producing one product. Now we’re up north of 10 different alloys with many, many, many variations on that, feeding multiple market sectors, multiple products, multiple end users. It really gives us the diversification that we need to be a long-term viable supplier of aluminum in this industry. That’s why you can tell I get excited about it, because its setting the foundation for a long future. We’ve got 100 years behind us, and we want 100 years more as we look forward.”
He’s talking about automotive sheet, appliances, commercial transportation and more.
Yes, Weida can go on about the possibilities.
Blount County Industrial Board
Arconic Tennessee Operations didn’t do it alone. The company has been working with the Blount County Industrial Board for nine months to make it happen.
On Wednesday morning, the board approved a resolution that sealed the deal.
Under the agreement, Arconic commits to investing at least $110 million in new equipment to expand its production capability.
The company also agrees to create at least 70 net new jobs.
Terms of the resolution commit the Industrial Development Board and the cities of Alcoa and Maryville to offer Arconic a six-year, graduated tax abatement program. The payment in lieu to taxes (PILOT) program schedule is a 40 percent break for years one and two, 20 percent for years three and four, and 10 percent for years five and six.
The PILOT program is estimated by the board to save Arconic $1.3 million in taxes while securing approximately $2.265 million in new property tax revenue to the city of Alcoa and to Blount County governments.
Jeff Muir, Blount Partnership communications director, provided the official statement.
“The Industrial Development Board along with the cities of Alcoa and Maryville is pleased to see this commitment from Arconic. We are happy to see Arconic continue to invest in its Tennessee Operations, because a project of this nature is so highly competitive on a worldwide scale. The facility continues to evolve with the changing landscape of the automotive industry and it’s nice to see Arconic offer very competitive wages,” Muir said.
For the community
Matt Murray, member and former chair of the Industrial Board and economist at the University of Tennessee, viewed the announcement with broad economic implications. He said the board’s decision was made to benefit the entire community.
“It works through a supply chain. All those workers will be going out to dinner and buying clothes and cars — all of that,” Murray said.
Some of the jobs will go to people who move here to work at this expanded version of Tennessee Operations. But by no means will all be newcomers.
“Certainly some of those jobs will go to residents of Blount County. The labor market is tight. Imagine workers in the county filling these very attractive jobs and leaving current employers. That leaves jobs open to somebody else. I always look at jobs as a hierarchy, entry-level jobs for young people to senior-level jobs. You need some churn in that whole process to get the the people at the bottom of the ladder moving up the ladder,” Murray said.
There’s some aluminum churning cold and hot at Tennessee Operations. It’s based on something solid. Something made of metal. Weida says he feels it.
“What we’re focused on here is we’ve never lost sight of the fact that we believe we’ve got the world’s best people, we believe we’ve got the world’s best equipment, and when you get some support and some backing, together we are building on the future,” Weida said.
“This helps solidify our direction and lets everybody understand that we really do have a path forward for Tennessee Operations — specifically in Alcoa, Tenn.”