U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin toured Century Aluminum today as the smelter celebrated the reopening of their fifth potline.
Century is one of just a handful of aluminum smelters left in the United States — 23 have shut down since 2000 — and the only high-purity smelter in the world. High-purity aluminum is used to build the F-35 fighter jet, armored military tanks and combat ships.
Citing national defense, the Trump administration created tariffs for foreign imports of steel and aluminum in May. With the 10 percent tariff on aluminum, the metal is more expensive to import from other countries, therefore creating more demand for aluminum from American smelters like Century.
“The real purpose at the end of the day isn’t to build up tariff wars, the real reason is to modify behavior,” Secretary Ross said. “We want a level playing field… so companies like Century can compete very, very well if it’s a fair contest.”
According to Secretary Ross, imported aluminum accounted for 90 percent of the U.S. market last year, a trend that resulted in hundreds of jobs lost at the Century plant in Hawesville, when they shut down 60 percent of their capacity.
“If people are out of a very skilled job for very long, they lose the skill set,” Secretary Ross said in a roundtable discussion with Century employees Wednesday afternoon. “It’s a skill set that is very valuable, very important, but it’s also perishable.”
Dusty Stevens, a superintendent at Century, addressed Ross at the roundtable discussion, thanking him and
the Trump administration for their work on the aluminum tariff.
“People are driving several miles for these jobs,” Stevens said. “We don’t just walk in off the street and learn how to do this.”
Stevens was one of the Century employees present at the White House when President Trump signed the tariff. Stevens’ father retired early when jobs were being cut two years ago, and his brother lost his job.
Now Century has hired 125 workers and will hire another 150 by next year, putting the plant back at full capacity production.
Southwire, a leading electrical wire and cable manufacturer in North America, is located next to Century and is the smelter’s largest customer, with 40 percent of Southwire’s consumption coming from their neighbor, according to Rich Stinson, President and CEO of Southwire.
“We would expect that [Century’s] increased capacity will allow us to buy more materials from them, and I only see that as a positive thing,” Stinson said.
Secretary Ross also toured Southwire’s facility today, which Stinson says was a celebration of the plants 400 employees and their 50 years in the industry.