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.