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Federal, state, local dignitaries help kick off Alcoa modernization project

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MASSENA — Using shovels made from aluminum, federal, state and local officials turned the first clumps of dirt Monday at Alcoa’s East Plant to kick off the company’s more than $600 million expansion and modernization of its manufacturing facility here.

“After years of uncertainty, delay and hurdles on the federal and state level, all that’s left is to get shovels in the ground, champagne corks in the air and hundreds of new paychecks signed, sealed and delivered to Alcoa workers,” U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer said during the noon ceremony.

He was joined by other dignitaries including Alcoa’s U.S. Primary Products president, John D. Martin; Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy, Rep. William L. Owens, state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray, New York Power Authority President and CEO Gil C. Quiniones, NYPA Trustee Eugene L. Nicandri, St. Lawrence County Legislature Chairman Jonathan S. Putney and Massena Mayor James F. Hidy.

The speakers agreed that making the project a reality was a combination of efforts among federal, state and local officials.

“We all work as a team — Democratic, Republican, state, federal and local,” Mr. Schumer said.

He recounted the process that led them to Monday’s ceremony. Mr. Schumer said that at the urging of local labor leader Ernest J. LaBaff, he had met with former Alcoa CEO Alain Belda, who “laid out a vision” for the company 15 years ago. It involved Alcoa getting cheaper hydropower from NYPA to expand its Massena operations and ultimately increase the number of jobs.

“He reminded me that the best labor force Alcoa has is in the north country,” Mr. Schumer said.

He said Mr. Belda had stressed the importance of low-cost power, which was available in other states such as Tennessee and Washington, and reminded him that Alcoa’s power contract with NYPA was set to be renewed. If it could get good a good contact with NYPA, Mr. Belda said, it could expand Massena’s operations.

Mr. Schumer said he then met with former Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer and told him, “You have to pay attention to the north country.” He also arranged a meeting between Mr. Spitzer and Mr. Belda.

But then there was a transition both at Alcoa and at the state. Alcoa’s new chairman and CEO, Klaus Kleinfeld, continued talks with former Gov. David A. Paterson and a contract was signed between NYPA and Alcoa in January 2009 during a ceremony at the company’s East Plant.

“That meant power here was cheaper than all the other places,” Mr. Schumer said.

“This is one of the great days of the north country, and I’m proud to have been playing a part in it,” he said. “Now we cross the finish line on this monumental and long-awaited expansion. You kept your word and that means a whole lot to us. Loyalty and dedication are always the name of the game for Alcoa.”

Alcoa officials appeared just as pleased as north country politicians.

“It has been a long time coming. This has been a long, hard road. We couldn’t do it without our political friends and community friends,” Mr. Martin said. “Alcoa is pleased to work with the state of New York and the community to ensure that we remain an integral part of the north country’s economic development.”

“Alcoa’s expansion for their Massena facility is great news for the local community and will mean new jobs and economic development,” Mr. Duffy said. “From our state’s top-tier workforce to all the north country has to offer, New York state is a place that businesses can invest and grow, and we are pleased that Alcoa has chosen the Massena community to continue to create jobs and expand operations.”

Mr. Duffy called the partnership and modernization and Alcoa’s decision to invest in the north “huge,” saving 1,000 local jobs in the process.

“It’s a huge boost for the north country. The north country needs jobs,” he said, and, speaking of the workforce, said, “It’s the dedication and hard work you put forth that makes it easier for the company to stay.”

Mr. Quinones said NYPA was happy to have been a part of keeping Alcoa in the community with expansion plans.

“It’s shows when government and business work together, great things can happen,” he said. “The North Country Economic Development Fund is also open for business and ready to accept applications in the near future.”

Mr. Nicandri said Monday’s groundbreaking has special meaning for him as a longtime Massena resident with friends and neighbors part of the Alcoa family.

“From where I stand, the future looks bright,” he said.

Also during the ceremony, Mr. Martin presented a $50,000 check to CITEC Inc. on behalf of the Alcoa Foundation. The grant to the Potsdam nonprofit economic development organization will be used to pilot a program that will help students obtain the necessary skills to qualify them for positions in north country manufacturing firms.

The goal of the initiative, called the North Country Manufacturing Readiness Program, is to help people qualify for higher-wage jobs and to help employers increase productivity and performance in their companies. The program is a partnership among CITEC, the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services and local high schools.

Mr. Martin also presented a $10 million check to the North Country Economic Development Fund on behalf of Alcoa Inc. Massena Operations.

The modernization and upgrade of the facility, together with $10 million for a North Country Economic Development Loan Fund, were made possible under an agreement between Alcoa and New York state. The state’s commitment to supply 478 megawatts of low-cost electricity led to the company’s investment and modernization plans and commitment to the long-term retention of nearly 1,000 jobs.

Under the contract, which was entered into in 2009, Alcoa committed to protect nearly 1,000 jobs at its Massena facilities and undertake capital investments of at least $600 million, of which $42 million is currently being spent on site preparation for a new aluminum production potline at the Massena East plant.



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