Trump’s Tariffs Are Paying Off for Century Aluminum

HAWESVILLE, Ky. — President Trump’s aluminum tariffs have rattled global businesses, set off retaliatory levies and started to eat into profits of some major American companies.

But they have also provided a lifeline to other United States businesses, like Century Aluminum, the struggling smelter in Kentucky that is at the heart of Mr. Trump’s trade fight.

After years of foreign competition that eroded Century’s market share, prompted layoffs and put its smelter here on the brink of perpetual collapse, the company is now riding high.

Century is planning to invest over $150 million to more than double output at the plant, and add 275 jobs in the process. The average salary and benefits package for a worker is $90,000 a year.

On Wednesday, Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, took a victory lap to mark the revival of Century, which is reaping the dividends of Mr. Trump’s trade war.

“It’s days like this that I hoped would happen when I took the job in Washington,” Mr. Ross, a former steel magnate, said to a room of workers at the plant here. “We’re going to keep going, despite what the naysayers say.”

Century’s victory is no accident. For years, the company lobbied the United States government to take action to protect the aluminum industry, advocating tariffs and other trade barriers to stop imports of cheap metal from China.

According to the Commerce Department, the United States accounts for just 1 percent of global aluminum output and imports accounted for 90 percent of the aluminum market in the United States last year. China produces 49 times more aluminum than the United States, where only six smelters remain.

Century has faced years of layoffs and its smelter here has several times been on the brink of shutting down. In 2015, it slowed production to 40 percent of its maximum capacity, cutting about 300 jobs. It was not until Mr. Trump decided this year to impose tariffs of 10 percent on aluminum and 25 percent on steel — saying that foreign metals posed a national security risk — that the company received the lifeline it was looking for.

“There was a significant risk of shutting down this year,” Jesse E. Gary, Century’s general counsel.

In a state with two Republican senators and a Republican governor, this is what workers who voted for Mr. Trump wanted when they took a chance and cast their ballots for him in 2016.

“If someone else had been elected, this might not have happened,” said Coy Zuelly, a process technician at Century who was laid off in 2015 and has since been rehired.

Mr. Zuelly, who voted for President Barack Obama, said he supported Mr. Trump because of his commitment to protecting American manufacturing jobs with tariffs.

Despite the new signs of hope in Hawesville, the prospects for the American aluminum industry and the broader economic impact from Mr. Trump’s tariffs remain uncertain. Several large companies, including Campbell Soup, Daimler, General Motors and Mondelez have all cited tariff-related costs, including retaliatory duties and trade uncertainty, as a drag on profits.

The Aluminum Association, a lobbying group, opposed Mr. Trump’s across-the-board tariffs because, while they benefit primary domestic producers like Century, they are raising costs further down the aluminum supply chain.

Even Alcoa, the other big aluminum producer in the country, opposed the tariffs. The company, which imports much of its aluminum from facilities in Canada, is being hit by the new duties and has asked the Commerce Department for an exemption so it can avoid the 10 percent tax. Last month, Alcoa said that the tariffs could cost the company $100 million this year.

“It’s hard to parse out because we see jobs coming back at Century and other industries that are potentially hurt by it,” said Jack Mazurak, a spokesman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. “The further down the manufacturing stream you go, the closer to the finished product, you would see resistance or companies that are saying they may be impacted.”

Chad P. Bown, a trade expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said it was too soon to say what the net effects on the aluminum industry would be. Most of the aluminum sector’s jobs are secondary markets, and it is unclear how they will handle the higher prices once they are passed on. Potentially, more jobs in the aluminum market could be lost than gained by Mr. Trump’s tariffs.

“With the exception of Century, virtually everyone else did not want tariffs,” Mr. Bown said.

Despite the impact on other American businesses, Century has not relented in its campaign to keep the tariffs as punishing as possible. It has been among the most frequent objectors to companies seeking exclusions to the tariffs, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Of the 215 objections to aluminum exclusion requests filed with the Commerce Department, more than half came from Century.

The department has denied a total of 112 requests, including 15 that Century sought. Another 21 of its objections were essentially tossed out because they were not deemed valid by the department.

While Century is benefiting from Mr. Trump’s trade policies, retaliation from Europe and China has dealt a blow to other industries in Kentucky, like spirits, negating the lift that the state is receiving from greater aluminum production.

“Clearly, these tariffs are making our American whiskeys less competitive, and may result in international spirits consumers choosing other spirits categories,” said Frank Coleman, senior vice president at the Distilled Spirits Council. “Depending on how long these are in place, the impact will be felt across the United States throughout the entire supply chain, from farmers to suppliers.”

Mr. Ross, however, played down the consequences for the whiskey industry, musing on Wednesday that a dedicated bourbon drinker was unlikely to switch to wine because of a small price increase.

The aluminum industry’s top priority remains persuading China to curb its overcapacity, but thus far the Trump administration’s negotiations on that front have produced little agreement. A delegation of midlevel Chinese economic policy officials came to Washington on Wednesday to revive trade negotiations at the Treasury Department, but Mr. Ross said he was not optimistic about a breakthrough.

Mr. Ross praised Century’s executives for their commitment to producing aluminum despite the tough competition. Dressed in a blue blazer, khakis and a hard hat with a sticker of the American flag, he cut a red ribbon to commemorate the plant and accepted a desk plaque labeled U.S.A. that was cast from aluminum made from the first smelting pot that had been restarted.

Still, the pressures of Washington could not be easily escaped.

“It will probably take the Office of Government Ethics months to approve this gift, but once they do, I will put it in my office,” Mr. Ross said.

Kentucky Aluminum Smelter Returning to Full Production

HAWESVILLE, Ky. (AP) — An aluminum producer has begun the return to full production at its smelter in Kentucky, which is planned to open up hundreds of new jobs.

Century Aluminum said in a news release the ceremony Wednesday at Hawesville marks the return to full capacity of the first of three lines to be restarted at the smelter. More than 125 employees have been hired, with almost 300 to be added by early next year.

Century closed three lines and laid off about 320 workers at the smelter in 2015 in a dispute over electricity prices. The company says it has operated at 40 percent capacity for the last three years.

Century is investing more than $150 million to upgrade smelting technology and train employees to use new equipment.

The smelter produces aluminum that supplies the defense and aerospace industries.

White House help for aluminum industry benefits Western Kentucky, workers

Wednesday, Kentucky will welcome U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to usher in a new era of economic growth for the commonwealth. Century Aluminum, America’s largest primary aluminum producer, will host a ceremonial restart as we increase production at the Hawesville, Kentucky primary aluminum smelter by 60 percent. That will result in nearly 300 new jobs created in Western Kentucky by early next year.

As CEO of Century Aluminum, I, as well as my colleagues, are truly honored to be welcoming Secretary Ross, who has worked tirelessly with President Trump to save the American aluminum industry.

In recent years, Century Aluminum was forced to curtail capacity at our Hawesville smelter to 40 percent as foreign countries engaged in illegal trade practices that hurt American workers. In late 2015, the U.S. primary aluminum industry was on the brink of collapse and at one point, the whole industry had announced it was closing.

Today, as a result of the action taken by President Trump and Secretary Ross, thousands of American aluminum workers are finally winning again. As a result of the renewed confidence in the market, we are in a position to invest $150 million to restart potlines and create the hundreds of new jobs.

While the upcoming ceremonial restart is a historic day for Kentucky families and our local community, our struggle is far from over. Foreign governments and aluminum producers continue to jockey for exemptions from the Trump administration’s aluminum tariffs. Some groups continue to fight the president’s trade agenda and are trying to undermine the program from within. Now, more than ever, we need to stand strong against attempts to weaken or undermine the tariff relief. In simple terms, if the tariffs are to have any real impact, there can be very few exclusions.

The fight of the American primary aluminum industry is well-documented. Global overcapacity of primary aluminum crippled domestic production, forcing smelters across America’s heartland to dramatically slow production, laying off thousands of workers. The industry faced an increasingly unlevel playing field tilted in favor of India, the Persian Gulf, China and other foreign nations. Even geopolitical allies like the EU have long had tariffs on U.S. aluminum coming to their shores. It wasn’t until this administration that our government stepped in to stop the cheating and address the flood of foreign imports racing onto our shores.

President Trump and his administration appropriately recognized that the adverse effects on the industry represented a clear and present danger to the nation’s national and economic security. Since the president signed the aluminum Section 232 proclamation earlier this year – imposing tariffs on imports of foreign aluminum, we have seen a renewed sense of confidence in our industry. As a direct outcome of President Trump’s action, the U.S. primary aluminum industry has already started expansions that will increase its production by 60 percent.

At Century Aluminum, these tariffs have allowed us to invest more than $150 million in our facility to upgrade smelting technology, train existing employees to use new equipment, and recruit more tradesman, mechanics and engineers. These are high-paying jobs for Kentucky that will help support our local economy in Hancock County and beyond.

Due to President Trump’s bold and courageous leadership, hundreds of families across Western Kentucky have been given another shot at the American dream. President Trump and Secretary Ross stand up to special interest groups and continue to push forward with an “America First” trade policy that levels the playing field for U.S. aluminum workers and millions of workers in industries across America.

Mike Bless is president and chief executive officer of Century Aluminum.