The off-again, on-again history of Wenatchee’s massive Alcoa aluminum plant has left the city and former workers unsure about its prospects, even as ingot prices climb to levels that previously sustained one of the Northwest’s last surviving smelters.
By Paul Roberts
To the outsider, these might look like hopeful times for Kelley Woodard, president of the Wenatchee Aluminum Trades Council.
Twenty months after aluminum maker Alcoa idled its giant smelter just south of town and laid off 428 of Woodard’s union members, the aluminum business is showing signs of life.
Prices for the smelter’s 1,500-pound aluminum “ingots” are recovering. Aluminum companies are reporting modest profits and restoring some idled facilities. Last month, Alcoa announced plans to restart a smelter in Indiana, and, says a spokesman, it continues to “regularly evaluate all of the curtailed sites, including Wenatchee.”
And if market conditions don’t yet warrant restarting the Wenatchee smelter, industry analysts say that could soon change, thanks to President Donald Trump.
In recent months, the Trump administration has taken steps to curb exports of ultracheap, government-subsidized Chinese aluminum that have flooded markets and depressed prices.
Though no fan of Trump, Woodard, 58, readily acknowledges the president’s tough stance on Chinese aluminum “could be a huge plus for us.”
And yet, standing in front of the nearly empty smelter, where Woodard leads a skeleton maintenance crew, this veteran “Alcoan” is surprisingly ambivalent about a restart. That’s a fairly common attitude around Wenatchee.