Mayor and town supervisor say Massena must reinvent itself in light of 487 Alcoa job cuts
By ANDY GARDNER
MASSENA -- The mayor and town supervisor are disappointed that Alcoa is ceasing its Massena smelting operations and say it is critical that the community reinvents itself as something other than a manufacturing hub.
On Monday evening, Alcoa announced it would cease smelting at all U.S. plants, including Massena, where 487 people will lose their jobs.“It’s incredibly devastating to all of us, In Massena and in this region. Initially my concerns are with the workers and their families and how this impacts them. They are by far the people most affected by this,” Mayor Tim Currier said. “I’m incredibly disappointed by the decision. I fully recognize this is a global corporation and the decisions they make in the boardroom are based on their bottom line.”
“The news is horrible but we need to find a way to get passed it and move on. I feel really bad about the employees and their families,” Town Supervisor Joe Gray said. “We need to stay as positive as possible and find a way to work through this.”
Each elected official said Massena needs to look to other means of creating good, local jobs.
“We’ve known in this community for several years, we have to reinvent ourselves, change the way we grow our economy … we cannot rely on industrial jobs anymore,” Currier said. He added that in the near future he will discuss publically “a number of new ideas and initiatives we’ve been working on.
Gray said Massena needs to look to other areas that lost major economic engines, such as Plattsburgh or Rome, who used to depend upon large U.S. Air Force bases.
“If you look at places like Plattsburgh or Rome where they lost their air bases, they went through a difficult time of transformation. Nowadays, Plattsburgh, I’m amazed, it’s like boomtown there,” Gray said. “I’m hopeful we can regroup and come out strong or stronger down the road.”
Both he and Currier said they will look to the state and federal government to help soon-to-be-jobless Alcoa laborers and the town get through the coming tough times.
Gray said he has been in talks with Rep. Elise Stefanik at the federal level and Sen. Joe Griffo in Albany.
“We’re going to be looking for some help. This is a big decline and we’re going to need help from the state and federal government,” he said. “I expect we’re going to have more discussion with them and with senators (Kirsten) Gillibrand and (Charles) Schumer as well.”
“We need to work with state, federal and local leaders to ensure benefits are provided as we move forward,” Currier said.
Gray believes Alcoa should set up a “community benefit payment” to help offset the economic impact of their pullout.
“I think there needs to be some sort of community benefit payment … a community enhancement or benefit fund, the employees should get more than a typical severance,” Gray said. He said that could include an economic development fund that offers revolving loans for new businesses or funding for existing economic development agencies, such as the Massena Business Development Corporation or the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency.
“We have worked closely to support Alcoa … and I think they owe us. Alcoa has been in Massena a long time and made a lot of money in Massena and I think they need to make a contribution.”
“With a company that has a long tradition here in Massena, we can make a string argument Alcoa being a global corporation is based in part on their success here in Massena, it’s disappointing to see them turn their backs on that,” Currier said.
United Steelworkers Local 420 President Bob Smith did not return a request for comment. His union represents the hourly employees running the Alcoa smelters.
Although Schumer and Gilibrand have yet to release statements regarding the announcement, Stefanik says she wants to see the low cost power currently used by NYPA used for economic development in the North Country.
“This is very disappointing news for our region. I have been in contact with Alcoa officials throughout the year and visited the plant this past May. I saw firsthand how important this company has been as an employer to generations of North Country families. I am working with federal, state and local officials to explore this decision and to work to ensure that any unused power that was allocated to the Massena West plant will be used to benefit the Massena community. I remain committed to working in Congress to work to grow the North Country economy so that we can create good paying jobs for North Country families.”
Alcoa’s decision to close their smelting operations breaches their agreement with the New York Power Authority to get cut-rate electricity to run the plants. NYPA officials don’t expect Alcoa will reimburse them for the discounts they have received to date. Read more about that here.
Read more about state officials’ reactions to Alcoa’s decision here.