Former smelter to reopen in May, to employ 450
NEW MADRID, Mo. -- The former Noranda aluminum smelter will reopen in May with plans to employ 450 people near term and potentially as many as 900 with future expansions, equaling the number of jobs lost when the plant shut down two years ago.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens said the smelter will provide jobs with an average annual wage of $64,000.
"These are quality jobs that we are bringing back to Southeast Missouri," he said at a news conference Friday at the New Madrid County plant.
Those jobs will improve the whole economy in the region, he said.
"It means more money for the schools. It means more customers for the restaurants," Greitens said.
The company plans to phase in operations over two years, the Missouri Department of Economic Development said in a news release.
Bob Prusak, Magnitude 7 Metals CEO, said the company plans to open one of the former Noranda pot lines in May and a second line in November.
Future expansions could happen, Prusak said, although nothing has been finalized beyond the opening of two pot lines or aluminum manufacturing lines.
Noranda originally operated three pot lines. The plant closed in March 2016 after Noranda filed for bankruptcy.
Prusak said the new company is a 100 percent American company. Swiss-based company ARG International assigned its rights to the Noranda plant to Magnitude 7 in bankruptcy proceedings. Magnitude 7 Metals then bought the shut down Noranda plant in October 2016, he said.
ARG is not involved with Magnitude 7 Metals nor the reopening of the Bootheel smelter, Prusak said.
Department of Economic Development officials said a critical factor in the company's decision to reopen the smelter was its ability to negotiate energy costs to allow the company to compete in the global aluminum market.
Aluminum smelters are heavy users of electricity.
The company has reached agreement on the purchase of power from Associated Electric Cooperative Inc., which is owned by and provides wholesale power to six regional and 51 local electric cooperative systems in Missouri, Iowa and Oklahoma.
David Tudor, CEO and general manager of Associated Electric, said, "We look forward to a successful ramp up of this facility."
Rob Dixon, director of the Economic Development Department, said after the news conference that the state is providing tax credits and job training to assist the new venture.
U.S. Rep. Jason Smith praised state Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, who led the effort in the Legislature to help reopen the smelter.
Smith called Rone "the biggest cheerleader of them all."
Rone said he worked to help convince Magnitude 7 Metals to reopen the smelter to bring jobs back to the area.
"It is not for the gray hairs like me. It is for our grandchildren," he told the crowd.
Hundreds of people turned out for the news conference, held on a parking lot at the plant.
Many in the crowd were new employees of the company, Magnitude 7 Metals, which purchased the assets of the old smelter.
They turned out wearing white hard hats and carrying signs reading "Fighting for Jobs."
James Dotson, a former Noranda employee, said he and more than 100 other workers have been employed recently, cleaning up the plant. Dotson said they were hired as private contractors and are now employees of Magnitude 7.
"It feels really good," he said as he waited for the news conference to begin. Dotson, who lives in Dyersburg, Tennessee, said he worked for Noranda for 27 years before the plant closed.
Dotson said he had always hoped it would reopen.
"It is a dream come true for Southeast Missouri," he said. "There are no jobs around here that pays like this."
Dotson credits President Donald Trump's economic policies for the reopening of the plant.
"We wouldn't be here without Trump," he said.