Regionalism critical to economic development

By The West Virginia Record | Dec 28, 2006



CHARLESTON -- I recently had the pleasure of joining my friend and colleague Ohio Governor-elect Ted Strickland for a ceremony commemorating the reopening of the Ormet Aluminum plant located along the Ohio River in Hannibal, Ohio, just across the river from Wetzel County, West Virginia.

The plant, which has been one of the Ohio Valley region's largest employers for more than four decades, was idled in 2004 after workers at the facility could not reach agreement on a new contract with Ormet as the company was attempting to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

In July 2006, members of United Steelworkers Local 5724 ratified a new contract with Ormet, but the reopening of the plant had been delayed as the company negotiated a new electricity agreement with American Electric Power. The new power deal was approved by Ohio state regulators in November, and smelting pots were prepared for production to resume.

The restart of production at Ormet's plant was not an occasion for us to reflect on the past, but it was instead a day for us to look forward with great optimism and hope as a stronger partnership has emerged to lead this facility to a bright economic future in the global aluminum market.

There were many partners who, working together, brought this shuttered plant back to life, creating immediate economic opportunities for more than 600 families –- nearly half of which are West Virginians. I appreciate the efforts of Ormet Primary Aluminum CEO Ken Campbell, the international and local union leadership and members for putting differences aside in coming to an agreement that truly is in the best interest of all sides, preserving the good paying jobs with benefits at the facility.

I appreciate the support that American Electric Power has shown to Ormet in helping the company to reestablish the aluminum production operations at Ormet. This plant is a major electricity user, and that's also good news for the thousands working in West Virginia's coal industry and the AEP workforce throughout the Ohio Valley region -- using coal to generate the power that fuels our economy.

As I said during my appearance with Governor-elect Strickland, the Ohio River is a boundary but not a barrier for our neighboring states. Last month, I also joined Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine for a series of meetings in the Bluefield area where we discussed opportunities for more regional collaboration in the Two Virginias region of Southern West Virginia.

State governments should partner with business to do what needs to be done to make jobs happen, and as neighboring states we must do all that we can to stimulate this growth. West Virginia and its neighboring states are uniquely joined in our commerce ventures. I look forward to continued collaborations with fellow governors in our bordering states. Our states are not competing against each other; we're competing together in a global market. As partners and allies, we can positively impact our economies and lives of citizens living on either side of our borders.

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