SPOILIN’ THE BROTH
Does anybody else catch the irony of the vision that was Velocita near Rockdale?
A green research-and-development community sitting where an aluminum smelter once belched everything but green?
A community of green homes located in the shadow of two coalfired power generating units?
Just hard to imagine.
Too hard, in fact.
Now I’m not going to go totally negative here. Most every great development starts with a vision, and it is obvious Doug Hutchison, who hoped to obtain over 11,000 acres of land from Alcoa for that Velocita development, is a visionary.
There is little doubt that he has the connections to pull off such a deal. It will probably happen in Hays County, which was his No. 2 pick for a site, after the Alcoa land.
It won’t happen here because the 30-year A lcoa- Luminant pact pretty well precludes Velocita having guaranteed access to Alcoa Lake and other assets.
In a private conversation, it was noted that the Alcoa-Luminant pact appears to have been written by a dozen lawyers representing each firm, and being paid $1,000 a word. The two big companies, meanwhile, continue their business agreement with obvious mutual disrespect.
The encouraging thing here is that Alcoa was receptive to selling some of its land. There is a lot of it, and that railroad spur has got to have a lot of appeal for some type of manufacturing operation.
Economic development is a slow process. It takes patience. But we’ll continue to believe our central location between Austin, Bryan- College Station and Temple-Waco will pay off down the line.
And thankfully, at long last, we have a sales tax dedicated to economic development, where heretofore there were simply no funds to work with.
Speaking of our Alcoa smelter: We are into our third year of a post-Alcoa-smelter economy. The status of the Rockdale Operations smelter continues to be termed—for local public consumption—“ temporarily-idled.”
I, like you, certainly hope that term is accurate.
However, when Mark Stiffler of Alcoa’s Pittsburgh headquarters spoke to the Rockdale Rotary Club a few weeks back, his Power Point presentation included a map of the U.S. with red dots signifying all of Alcoa’s U.S. smelter locations that, he said, were “permanently curtailed.”
Rockdale’s dot was pretty doggone red.
But maybe it was just a mistake in terminology on his part, because he reiterated that the smelter’s condition is being maintained and that if conditions (price and demand) are right, some idle U.S. production might be restarted in 2011.
However, there is idle capacity at several Alcoa plants with hydro power which is cheaper than coalfired power. I don’t know where that leaves Rockdale’s smelter on the pecking order, but I suspect not very high.
Also, he noted, there is a huge metal inventory on hand and China produces 16 million metric tons yearly, four times more metal than the U.S./Canada combined.
Stiffler said in the 1970s, Alcoa was operating 33 U.S. smelters, but today only eight continue to make metal. He noted that’s pretty well the case with most other U.S. heavy industries.
Those jobs are overseas.
Current activities at Rockdale Operations, Stiffler said, are continuing to operate the atomizer, maintaining the smelter’s condition, and reclaiming and then closing the Sandow Mine.
There are currently 75 to 80 Alcoa employees carrying out those activities.
Alcoa’s goals for Rockdale, Stiffler said, are to maximize return on assets, minimize long-term liabilities, and minimize holding costs.
We haven’t rolled up the sidewalks yet in Rockdale, as some predicted. From my vantage point, it looks like we’re hanging pretty tough.
Happy New Year to you and yours!