In the city of Menasha, Wis., residents watched a plant there transform from ownership under Pechiney International SA to Alcan Inc. and worried that the facility would meet the fate of local paper mills, shuttered with lost jobs.
``A few years ago they brought in new [printing] presses,'' Menasha Mayor Joe Laux said in a Dec. 7 telephone interview. ``If we wouldn't have gotten those new presses, I fear it would have shut down. The presses that were in there were from the 1950s.''
Now, the community has agreed to reroute a road so that the international company's Alcan Packaging - Food Americas unit can expand the Menasha site. The Chicago-based food packaging group will spend more than $3 million and tack on 40,000 square feet for the project, to be completed in the third quarter of 2006, a spokeswoman said in a Dec. 8 telephone interview.
It's a project that the city will gladly accommodate, officials said. Alcan purchased the former American National Can plant, which officials are tearing down. The city contributed $1.2 million to that effort.
``A lot of it hinged on moving the road,'' Laux said of the road known as River Street that leads to the city's power plant, one other paper mill, and a few residences. ``We'll vacate the street and then they can have the street.
``It's not like 10,000 cars a day. It's a road that's important for commerce. They need to reroute the road to get the extruder in,'' he explained. ``They expanded the building to go across the existing road, and they're joining it up with the original building.''
Alcan officials are mum on how they will source the new equipment. Will they bring in new equipment or move it from other sites?
``For competitive reasons, we won't be specific about the equipment,'' the spokeswoman said.
The plant serves Alcan's growing natural cheese segment. Pechiney spent $17 million upgrading and modernizing that plant for a project that was completed in 2003 - that investment included the new printing equipment touted by Laux.
``It's a nice story of continuing investment in that site,'' the spokeswoman said. The move also is in line with Alcan investing to grow businesses where it already holds a leadership position.
Montreal-based parent Alcan Inc. has been announcing consolidations companywide, including rationalizations in Europe and, just recently, closure of a blow molding site in Centralia, Ill.
A company spokesman said by telephone Dec. 7 that the expansion is part of the consolidation effort to put best equipment, technology and capacity in hubs where customers will be served more effectively.
For Menasha, it's a welcome investment.
``We're very excited about the prospect,'' Laux said. ``It breathes new life into the plant. It will help stabilize the local economy. These jobs are very valuable because they're comparable to the paper mill jobs. We've been kind of bleeding here. It has not been a good situation for us.''
Alcan Packaging - Food Americas operates 16 film extrusion sites in North America, including Neenah, Wis.; Joplin, Mo.; Boscobel, Wis.; Des Moines, Iowa; and Shelbyville, Ky.