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Deal between Alcoa and New York state will maintain jobs at aluminum plant in Massena

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s announcement Monday that the state and Alcoa have come to an agreement is a significant step to ensure that Massena remains home to world-class aluminum smelting facilities for another generation and is welcome news in the north country.

The jobs at Alcoa are critical to the economic viability of northern St. Lawrence County, which has been concerned for more than a year about the future of Alcoa’s operations. The East plant built as part of the original deal, which resulted in the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Moses Saunders power dam, had outlived its use.

A contract between Alcoa and the New York Power Authority regarding long-term, low-cost power has provided Alcoa with the immense quantities of electricity it requires to smelt aluminum. In renegotiating this contract, Alcoa agreed to invest more than $600 million in the East plant.

That stipulation remains on track for a final Alcoa board decision within a year. But because of Monday’s announcement, the prospects for a favorable outcome have improved. As part of the deal, Alcoa agreed that there would be no layoffs as a result of the East plant’s closure. Its pot lines shut down Saturday. Now comes the multi-year work to decommission the lines and prepare for a massive reinvestment in the facility.

Alcoa also agreed to create what is described as a world-class apprenticeship program to teach the complex skills required for workers in the sophisticated aluminum smelting business. The creation of this skills-training program should set an example across America on how industry can guarantee a highly trained supply of employees.

NYPA also agreed to supply additional firm power utilized at the East plant to the West plant. Firm power is the heart of any aluminum-smelting operation; it keeps costs as low as possible and enables Alcoa to effectively compete in the world market for aluminum.

The final decision of the investment by Alcoa in a new smelting line is months away. And, of course, part of that decision will depend upon factors in the worldwide market for aluminum.

The deal with the state should end any indecision on Alcoa’s part about the extent of New York’s support. It remains incumbent upon the north country and the state to work closely with Alcoa to guarantee that our cheap power will fuel the next generation of smelting in Massena.

It is gratifying for the north country that Gov. Cuomo continues to address the needs of businesses that provide the quality jobs necessary to build the backbone of any economy. Upstate New York requires many substantial investments before the state can regain its historic advantage as a manufacturing economy. This announcement is significant, and hundreds of families should be relieved that there is a brighter future here in the north country.

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