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


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 their manufacturing facility in Massena.

“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. Senator 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, Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray, New York Power Authority President and CEO Gil C. Quiniones and NYPA Trustee Eugene L. Nicandri, St. Lawrence County Legislature Chairman Jonathan Putney and Massena Mayor James F. Hidy.

The speakers agreed that making the project a reality was a combination of efforts between 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 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 the New York Power Authority to expand their 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 their power contract with the New York Power Authority was set to be renewed. If they could get good a good contact with NYPA, Mr. Belda said, they could expand Massena’s operations.

Mr. Schumer said he then met with former Gov. Eliot 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 the state levels. 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.

But then another problem detoured the process - the cost of Alcoa’s cleanup of the Grasse River. Alcoa officials said that if they had to spend $1 billion to clean up the river, they would not have the funding necessary to expand their facility, according to the senator.

“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 name of the game for Alcoa.”

He said the modernization and expansion “will make the north country an even greater aluminum producer than it has been in the past. This will create jobs, boost the local economy and now, with the riverbed cleanup moving forward, improve the environment. I was proud to fight for Alcoa throughout the years and now our hard work and faith have been rewarded. This investment will anchor Alcoa and its jobs in St. Lawrence County for decades to come.”

“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.”

He said that, since taking office, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo “has put a new emphasis on creating jobs and supporting local economies in the north country, and today we are seeing yet another example of a business choosing a community in this region as the place to invest.”

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 work force, said, “It’s the dedication and hard work you put forth that makes it easier for the company to stay.”

Mr. Owens said the plans would preserve jobs, short-term through construction and long-term through those already employed at Alcoa.

He also cited the partnerships that made Monday’s ceremony possible. He said all the entities worked together “to help companies like Alcoa keep a presence in our communities.”

Mr. Griffo lauded the workers, saying, “You are one of the most valuable resources any community or company can have.”

He also called the partnership between all agencies “the key to success.”

“These jobs are jobs that will have a large effect on our economy,” Ms. Russell said, noting Alcoa provides “good paying jobs” that helps the local economic base.

“These are fantastic jobs that you can raise a family or build a community on,” she said. “We all know as Alcoa goes, the north country.”

On the other hand, when Alcoa is doing well, it “reverberates through the entire economy,” Ms. Russell said.

“This is a great day, something we have been looking forward to for a long time,” Mr. Gray said, noting that Alcoa and Massena grew together over the years.

“When we can secure these kinds of jobs for the future, there’s nothing more important than that,” he said.

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. Today, in more ways than, yes, Alcoa is open for business.”

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

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

“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.”

“Today’s groundbreaking is a major step forward for the modernization project of the Alcoa facility in Massena,” Gov. Cuomo said in a prepared statement. “Alcoa is a world class company that is continuing to spur economic development and make investments in the community. Under this project, 1,000 jobs will be retained. New York State looks forward to building upon this partnership with Alcoa to grow the economy of the North Country region for years to come.”

Also during the ceremony, Mr. Martin presented a $50,000 check to CITEC, Inc. on behalf of the Alcoa Foundation. The $50,000 grant to CITEC, a Potsdam-based not-for-profit 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 individuals qualify for higher-wage jobs and to help employers increase productivity and performance in their companies. The program is a partnership between CITEC, The St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services and local high schools.

He 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 a thousand 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.

The North Country Economic Development Loan Fund is available to manufacturers, agri-business, clean/green and bio tech, assemblers, wholesale distributors, warehouses, Business Improvement Districts or not-for-profit entities for the purpose of revitalization. Retail/market applicants may also be eligible but must meet special criteria in order to be considered for a loan.

Applicants can request a loan for a number of purposes, including, acquisition of land, building construction and rehabilitation, purchase of machinery. For every $15,000 loaned from the fund, at least one job must be created or retained.

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