Sometimes totally unrelated events come together to illuminate a big change that’s been in the works for a long time.
That’s the case this week in Rockdale. Here are the events:
• Maintenance work is over at Luminant’s Sandow 4 and 5 power plants and the large temporary crews who performed those jobs have gone home.
• Contract talks have begun in Cincinnati, Ohio, between Alcoa and United Steelworkers.
• Rockdale residents approved collection of a city-wide one-half cent sales tax to be used for economic development.
Put them together and what do they mean? It’s official. We’re now in the Post-Alcoa Era and Rockdale is shouldering the task of staying on its own two feet.
Alcoa closed its Rockdale smelter in 2008, but the area economy got a substantial boost from the power plant projects, with about 1,600 workers involved at different times. That’s over now.
Contract time isn’t new in Rockdale, of course. What is new is that the contract being negotiated would currently affect about 50 hourly workers at Alcoa. Last time around, in 2005, that figure was 1,100.
For a half century Rockdale didn’t have to worry about economic development, or much of anything else. The Saturday Evening Post even called Rockdale “The Town Where in Rains Money” in the 1950s.
Forward-looking town leaders were warning that wouldn’t last forever. It didn’t. Now it’s up to us and the sales tax money will help.
There’s one more event going on, but it’s difficult to classify. Alcoa and Luminant are in court. It’s safe to say most Rockdale area people aren’t real sure what to make of it.
In past years, during the many Alcoa crises, Rockdale and Milam County rallied to Alcoa’s side with resolutions, testimonies, petitions and more.
And today? Well, it’s instructive to remember that Luminant is now the area’s largest employer with more than three times the work force of Alcoa.
May, 2010. The Post-Alcoa Era has begun.—M.B.