Editorial: Alcoa and jobs

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Alcoa and Stanly County commissioners still stand on opposite sides of the river when it comes to Alcoaís hydroelectric relicensing efforts, but at least theyíve been talking to one another. Weíll take that as an encouraging sign.
The latest volley in the public relations battle over the relicensing centers on jobs. Alcoa, which is seeking federal approval to continue operating its Yadkin River hydroelectric dams, says securing the license is necessary to recruit new businesses and replace the jobs lost when the Badin smelting operations closed. Standing in the way, however, is Alcoaís inability to get a water quality certificate, which the state has refused to issue, citing mistatements on Alcoaís application. Stanly has sided with the state, which opposes renewal of Alcoaís federal license in hopes of taking over the Yadkin dams and using cheap electricity as its own industrial recruitment tool.
Meanwhile, caught in the middle of this power struggle are Stanly County citizens, who like those elsewhere could desperately use new jobs to help lower a double-digit unemployment rate. Their hopes were raised a few months ago when Alcoa announced that Electronic Recyclers International would move into the site of Alcoaís former smelting plant in Badin, starting with a workforce of 20-30 employees that is expected to reach 200. Now, Alcoa says another company, Clean Tech Silicon and Bar LLC, could bring in several hundred jobs and $300 million in investment. But in return, it apparently wants Stanly to drop its opposition to the water quality certification and relicensing effort. Stanly Commissioner Tony Dennis contends Alcoa is holding the promised jobs ěhostageî as a way to put pressure on the county. Which is probably true to the same extent the state is holding the water certification ěhostageî to gain leverage against Alcoa.
In reality, both Alcoa and its relicensing opponents have played hard ball at times. But with good jobs on the table, the need to get past the war of words becomes more urgent. The takeover attempt has lost momentum as North Carolina copes with the economic downturn. At this point, itís hard to fathom state or county officials pursuing what would no doubt be a protracted and costly court battle against Alcoa. While the details of negotiations between Stanly and Alcoa havenít been divulged, the fact theyíve discussed a deal suggests possible movement in this standoff.
With takeover of the dams a distant possibility at best, better to drive a hard bargain with Alcoa and gain jobs and other tangible benefits now than to continue pursuing a costly legal battle that doesnít create employment for anyone other than lawyers and lobbyists.