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Potential Idling of Hancock County Smelter Would Have Broad Economic Impact in Region

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"Milwaukee Makerspace Aluminum Pour" by Pete Prodoehl, Flickr Commons, (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
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The Hancock County Judge-Executive says he feels “helpless” following the announcement that a major employer plans to sharply reduce operations in late October.

Century Aluminum announced Tuesday that it will idle its smelter in Hawesville unless there is a major rebound in the price of aluminum on the open market.

The smelter employs 565 people. In an email Wednesday, Century Aluminum Human Resources Manager Kenny Barkley said the company would keep “around a dozen” workers at the Hawesville plant if it’s idled this fall.

Hancock County Judge-Executive Jack McCaslin said there’s nothing anybody in the region can do about the market forces impacting the price of aluminum.

“It’s a commodity. Metals are just like soybeans and corn and everything else. So the markets dictate how much stuff is worth. I can’t change the markets.”

McCaslin estimated about 200 of the smelter’s workers are from Hancock County, with another 200 living in Daviess County. “The rest are from other counties,” McCaslin said. “So, we’d have over 200 families impacted here in our small county.”

In a statement issued Tuesday by Century, President and CEO Michael Bless said the “recent significant decline in the aluminum price is being driven by unfair trade behavior over which our industry has no control. Chinese overcapacity and the improper export of heavily-subsidized Chinese aluminum products have undercut an otherwise viable plant.”

Century’s announcement regarding the potential idling of its Hawesville smelter does not impact the company’s other Kentucky smelter, which sits near the border between Henderson and Webster counties.

Kevin is the News Director at WKU Public Radio. He has been with the station since 1999, and was previously the Assistant News Director, and also served as local host of Morning Edition. He is a broadcast journalism graduate of WKU, and has won numerous awards for his reporting and feature production. Kevin grew up in Radcliff, Kentucky and currently lives in Glasgow.
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