September 19, 2020
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Proving Their Mettle

More than 50 years ago, a major employer left Evansville. Soon, a worldwide aluminum powerhouse moved in and boosted the local economy
Alcoa Warrick Operations

When the Evansville Chrysler auto plant relocated its operation to St. Louis and took thousands of jobs with it, the Tri-State needed a large-scale company to replenish jobs. Two years later, Alcoa, a company that even then had established itself as one of the world’s aluminum smelting leaders, finished construction on Newburgh’s Alcoa Warrick Operations, a 375,000-kilowatt power plant and 150,000 metric ton-a-year smelter. The plant poured its first metal on June 9, 1960, and this year, Alcoa — now with a 791-megawatt power plant fueled by Alcoa’s coal reserves and an Illinois coal mine — celebrates its 50th year in the region: a milestone demonstrating a significant economic, philanthropic, and environmental impact.

Today, with a corporate center in Pittsburgh and its corporate headquarters in New York City, Alcoa has around 60,000 employees in more than 30 countries, and Alcoa Warrick Operations employs 1,911 people. It houses 120 acres of its 14,000 under one roof and boasts the largest operating aluminum smelting facility in the country.

Soon after its opening 50 years ago, the facility branched out into casting, rolling, and fabricating. The casting process transforms molten metal into 30-foot-long ingots weighing as much as 40,000 pounds. After the casting process, ingots move through a reversing mill, a continuous mill, and one of two cold mills to convert a 20-inch-thick ingot into a coil of aluminum sheet that can be 13 miles long and as thin as 10 pieces of paper. In the finishing department, workers clean, level, lubricate, coat, and trim the metal.

That metal, aluminum, heads around the world to kitchen cupboards. Since opening, Warrick Operations has been Alcoa’s prime location for can stock rolling mills, churning out aluminum sheet for food and beverage cans across the globe. Another major achievement, says Jim Beck, communications and public affairs leader at Warrick Operations, is the production of metal for lithographic printing plates used on printing presses.

A study on the current economic impact of the plant, conducted by economics professors Gale Blalock of the University of Evansville and Perry Burnett of the University of Southern Indiana, shows that Warrick Operations, and the metropolitan activity due to its existence, currently contributes more than $657 million of output to the country’s gross domestic product — almost $1.8 million every day. The ongoing study, which began earlier this year, found that the plant’s 1,911 jobs currently support an additional 4,003 Tri-State jobs, and that one out of every $20 of personal income generated annually in the Evansville metropolitan area (including Indiana’s Warrick, Vanderburgh, Gibson, and Posey counties and Kentucky’s Henderson and Webster counties) stems from the economic activity associated with the existence of Warrick Operations.

Beck says the company’s ability to endure five decades comes from being a completely integrated facility. “From generating our own power to casting raw molten metal into ingots to rolling and fabricating the finished products, this gives us a tremendous advantage in what really is a global marketplace right now,” he says.

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