WENATCHEE — More than 80 new jobs with a payroll in the millions should boost the region’s economy when the Alcoa plant here soon cranks up its third potline after being shut down for a decade.
Local officials for the world’s largest aluminum company announced this morning that the Wenatchee smelter will be one of three in the U.S. to restart idle production lines this year as worldwide demand for aluminum increases, particularly in aerospace industries and food and beverage products.
“This kind of opportunity — restarting production and adding jobs — has been a rare thing for the industry,” said Nik Winjum, plant manager for the 355-employee Wenatchee Works. “We’re excited and happy.”
Mechanical crews will begin next week, said Winjum, to prep the production line for restart sometime in the next three to four months. The $1.5 million in preparation work should have the potline operational by “spring flush” on the Columbia River, he added, when massive amounts of snow runoff move down the Columbia River to produce a surge in power at the region’s hydroelectric dams.
The potline’s spring start is well ahead of the Nov. 1 activation date of a new contract with the Chelan County PUD for cheap power to operate the line. The new 17-year contract provides enough energy, said Winjum, to increase the smelter’s annual production by 42,000 metric tons.
Alcoa and PUD officials are in discussions now, said the plant manager, to determine how to power the early startup — where that electricity might come from and how much it’ll cost — prior to the new contract taking effect. The PUD is expected to manage the power delivery no matter where the electricity is generated, Winjum added.
Meanwhile, 50 of 80 new employees already have been hired, Winjum said. Orientation and training are under way, with more sessions set to begin Monday and in the next few weeks. Most of the new employees are from North Central Washington and have not worked for Alcoa in the past.
More than 750 applicants expressed interest in the positions, he said, and the hiring pool is full at the moment. However, additional jobs could be added once production on the line starts.
“For the most part, these are new people moving into new jobs,” Winjum said. “The benefits for the community should be tremendous.”
Alcoa estimates that the high-paying jobs will generate nearly $100,000 in wages and benefits per employee annually. That money pumped into the local economy could help create, indirectly, more than 230 jobs throughout the area, Winjum said.
The addition of new workers would bring Wenatchee Works’ employee headcount to about 435 by the end of 2011.
Alcoa’s Wenatchee Works opened in 1952. The third potline shut down during the energy crisis of 2001, said Winjum, and has been sitting there — cold and waiting — ever since. “But everything is in good shape and working order,” he said, “because we knew we’d start it up again. And that’s proven true.”
Alcoa facilities in Ferndale and Messina, N.Y.— also idle for years — also are scheduled to crank up this year.
Mike Irwin: 665-1179