One year in

Alcoa aniversary passes with no tumbleweeds sighted in streets

One year ago Alcoa announced it was closing all of its smelter at Rockdale Operations. Human nature being what it is, there are people marking that anniversary and trying to gauge the impact of that closing from the current vantage point.

Just about the only thing clear is that nothing is really clear yet. The big wild card still down the road is that SUB pay for hundreds of laid-off Alcoans has not yet run out.

But that will happen within the next year. The two-year anniversary of Alcoa's announcement should provide much more insight than this one.

All that having been said, though, if you'd taken to heart what was said on area television stations one year ago as they flocked to Rockdale to "cover" the closing, you might be surprised not to see tumbleweeds blowing down our streets this week.

The prevailing sentiment conveyed in those reports was that Rockdale was doomed, that in a year or two many, or most, businesses would be closed, hundreds would pack up and leave and our town might have been building new schools with few students to put in them.

One of the stations illustrated their report with at least a dozen videos of Luminant's Sandow 4 power plant and not a one of the actual Alcoa smelter, which shouldn't have been hard to find. It's across the street.

In the past year a few businesses have closed but some have also opened. The Rockdale ISD actually posted a slight enrollment gain, surprising everyone. (The new schools were built because the old schools were critically overcrowded, not for projected future growth, anyway.)

There's not a tumbleweed in sight.

Nobody is foolish enough to say everything's great and losing Alcoa's smelter doesn't matter. There are about 100 jobs still at Rockdale Operations, most of them temporary. There's no way that compares with the almost 1,100 who were working before the smelter shut down.

However, please don't forget there are 375 employed at Luminant's power plants and 3 Oaks Mine. That's not Alcoa. It's not nothing either.

So what's the bottom line? In the 1920s a journalist interviewed Calvin Coolidge in the White House and brought up some real, or imagined, flaw in the character of George Washington. "What do you think?" he asked Coolidge.

Coolidge, a man of few words, went to the window and looked out at the Washington monument soaring toward the sky. "He's still there," Coolidge said.

So is Rockdale.—M.B.

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2009-10-08 digital edition

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