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Blaming starts over Alcoa's jobs-for-license deal

Fri, 12/16/2011 - 11:13am
EMERY P. DALESIO - AP Business Writer - Associated Press

A steel company tied to Alcoa Inc. said Friday it's giving up on the aluminum giant's North Carolina former smelter plant as a site for a pair of factories promising hundreds of jobs, and will look to other states for politicians eager to make a deal.

Clean Tech Silicon & Bar has another location in mind that it will announce within weeks, said David Stickler, an investment banker specializing in steel companies who is part of Clean Tech's board of directors.

"We have one recently elected government official that would love nothing more than to make a large economic development announcement shortly after the swearing in ceremony in January," Stickler said.

Clean Tech incorporated in August to partner with Alcoa and others to build two factories at the aluminum giant's shuttered Stanley County site where hundreds once worked.

One factory was to produce steel reinforcing bars for construction and a second would have made silicon metal used by the solar energy industry, the company said. Clean Tech has long-term contracts to sell more than 60 percent of the silicon metal produced, Stickler said. Alcoa said it would be one of Clean Tech's customers and the aluminum giant would own up to 25 percent of the smaller business.

Clean Tech projected that the factories together would employ 450 production and support workers earning between $40,000 and $55,000 a year.

But those jobs were conditioned on Alcoa receiving a new federal license to operate its four hydroelectric dams along the Yadkin River for as much as another 50 years, a process blocked by resistance by state and local officials.

Those officials believe the cheap hydroelectric dams could attract thousands of jobs to the area in the coming years, without Alcoa's involvement.

"Alcoa's requirements removed any hope of a responsible deal," Stanly County commissioner said in a prepared statement. "There are several other manufacturing projects that have expressed interest in the former Badin Works site. These companies have made it clear that Alcoa's relicensing is not important or related to their investment and job creation decision."

Alcoa said Friday it remains committed to attracting employers to its former smelter site near the town of Badin, and it remains determined to secure a new federal license.

"Our goals remain the same, no matter how long it takes to reach them," Alcoa vice president Kevin Anton said.

Alcoa has sold the electricity to commercial customers since its smelter closed years ago. Company figures estimate that the dams could generate revenues of more than $2 billion over 50 years, the period for which Alcoa seeks for a new license. Those revenues could multiply if demand for clean power booms or the dams increase their output.

A group promoting sustainable economic development in an eight-county region that includes Stanly County supported local officials on refusing Alcoa's jobs-for-license proposal.

"The area is seriously economically depressed and has little in the way of potential financial resources, except the river, to stimulate growth and job creation," said David Jones, board chairman of Central Park NC and head of the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. "Maximizing economic return to the region from this resource is vital to its future. Failure to maximize that return for the community would be a tragedy, most especially when we are talking about half a century. "

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio

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