Feeling light as Alumina

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 7, 2009



GRAMERCY – A Franklin, Tenn.-based company has taken sole ownership of the Gramercy Alumina plant in St. James Parish with a promise to ramp up production in an effort to gain market share, company officials announced Thursday.

Noranda Aluminum Inc., which had previously held a 50 percent stake in Gramercy Alumina with Century Aluminum Co., officially acquired full ownership of the 50-year-old facility earlier this week. The announcement comes at a time when aluminum producers are dealing with lower prices and an overabundance of supply.

“We’ve been through a very difficult time in the last 12 months,” said Noranda Chief Operating Officer Kyle Lorentzen during a meeting with Gramercy Alumina employees. “We really understand the efforts you put in to allow us to not only survive in a down economy but also talk about true sustainability.”

In addition to taking full ownership of Gramercy Alumina, Noranda announced it has also taken complete control over half of the St. Ann Bauxite mine, which it operates in conjunction with the Jamaican government. Lorentzen said the move gives Noranda 100 percent control of “valuable operating assets” and provides security of supply and long-term cost competitiveness of essential raw materials for aluminum production.

Larry Holley, president of Gramercy Alumina and St. Ann Bauxite, told employees that Noranda has immediate plans to bring the plant back up to its full production capacity of 1.2 million metric tons of alumina within the next 90 days in the wake of increased sales opportunities for Noranda that were not made public. He said the plan includes a re-hire of some of the employees laid off during cut backs in the early part of 2009.

“This operation deserves this opportunity as quickly as we can get it here,” Holley said. “This plant took it on the chin when things were tough and just kept on coming back.”

Employees present at the morning meeting, who received blue T-shirts emblazoned with the Noranda logo, appeared happy and excited about the new deal and the future plans to ramp up production. Larry DeLaneauville, president of United Steelworkers of America Chapter 5702, which represents some of the plant workers, said employees have worked extremely hard to keep the Gramercy facility running and said the move provides some positive reinforcement.

Representatives from the Jamaican government as well as executives from Jamaican Bauxite Ltd., which operates the St. Ann mine, were also in Gramercy Thursday to share their excitement over the plans to increase production.

“We understand the strong union we have with our partners on this side of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Jamaican Minister of Energy and Mining James Robertson. “There are no ‘doubting Thomases.’ We all want to be a part of the success. The more you do here, the more we will do back at home.”

Robertson said the deal is a shot in the arm for an industry that has been on the decline in Jamaica. He said three of the island’s five bauxite mines have shut down as a result of the economic downturn.

Howard Mitchell, chairman of Jamaican Bauxite Ltd., called the mining industry “the single most important industry in Jamaica.” He said employees at the St. Ann mine operation are ready to bring production back to full capacity.

“We could have filled a plane with people to come here to capitalize on this good news,” Mitchell said.

Lorentzen explained that the price of aluminum had dropped from $1.40 per pound in July 2008 to a low of about 60 cents per pound earlier this year. He said the price is finally starting to rebound and is currently holding at 80 cents per pound.

“We believe these assets are strong and we want to be completely integrated from the dirt in St. Ann all the way to the finished aluminum product,” said Lorentzen. “Things are getting better, and we think they will continue to get better in the months ahead.”

Lorentzen said the company is still in the process of weighing its options of changing the name of Gramercy Alumina LLC to Noranda.