MARIETTA - The facility that would become Eramet Marietta began 60 years ago as part of a massive Union Carbide complex along the Ohio River that at one time employed about 11,000 people.
Over the years, the complex has broken up, and companies like Americas Styrenics, Solvay Advanced Polymers, Energizer and the recently shuttered AMP Ohio plant have taken up residence along Ohio 7, in addition to Eramet. Today, Eramet Marietta employs a little more than 200 people and has a smaller customer base than its predecessor.
But Eramet Marietta President and CEO John Willoughby included those changes in a speech Tuesday marking the plant's 60th anniversary because of what has happened in spite of them.
Photo by?Evan Bevins
Washington County Commissioner Tim Irvine, left, talks with Eramet Marietta President and CEO John Willoughby Tuesday following a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the Ohio 7 plant.
"We're still here, doing what we were doing 60 years ago," he said.
In addition to manufacturing- the plant is one of only two silicomanganese producers in the country and the only ferromanganese producer- that includes providing jobs to local residents and making a major impact on the local economy.
"It's an important day to reflect not only on the 200 people that work here, but also the thousands of people that have worked here," and the families Eramet has impacted over the years, said Nick Gatz, regional representative for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Gatz was one of more than 40 people - including elected officials, business leaders and representatives of companies that work with Eramet - who attended Tuesday's ceremony.
Willoughby told the guests about developments at the facility in recent years, including the announcement of an estimated $150 million project to improve the operational and environmental performance of the plant.
"Since that time ... we've invested, with the support of our parent company, more than $40 million in this facility," he said.
That's included a baghouse emissions abatement system, as well as reconstruction of the facility's largest furnace. In addition, Eramet is completing the construction of a water system that will serve it and other nearby plants and plans a $10 million project next year to replace manual portions of its material-handling system with automated equipment.
"I've been here since 2008. I didn't accomplish any of this on my own," Willoughby said. "The credit belongs to the people that work here. ... Through the workforce's ingenuity and hard work, we've survived and thrived."
In addition to being an important piece of the local economy- its estimated impact on the community was $45 million in 2011- Eramet has also been a lightning rod for residents concerned about the environment, specifically the impact of manganese on human health. Studies are under way to determine just what that is, but the company has made significant reductions in emissions in recent years.
"Nobody's more concerned about the air, the water and about the conditions of workers than the folks who work here, who live here," said U.S. Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Ohio.
Johnson said Eramet is impressive not only for its economic importance to the community but also because the company is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to address a proposed rule change that threatened the future of the plant.
"This is one of the rare instances ... that the EPA has been willing to come to the table and talk about common-sense regulations," he said.
Eramet spokeswoman Joy Frank-Collins said an emissions standard originally set to take effect in June could have forced the shutdown of the plant. Johnson said that would have been a national security concern since steelmakers would have been reliant on foreign sources for Eramet products that make steel easier to shape while still remaining sturdy and durable.
"Those products go into every ton of steel that's produced in the U.S.," Willoughby said.
The EPA has granted two extensions on the effective date of the new rule. Frank-Collins said the company has been working with the agency to develop a rule that meets the environmental goals while allowing the company to continue to provide products for the domestic steel industry.
Also speaking highly of Eramet at Tuesday's event were district and local representatives of the United Steelworkers, which represents Eramet's hourly employees. Willoughby noted the company has several workers who have been there more than 30 years and thanked them for their loyalty.
One longtime employee, metal worker Calvin Williams, said he's been loyal to the company because it's been loyal to him for 24 years, including through four military tours of duty- two in Iraq and two in Afghanistan- since 2004.
"I am very proud to work here and be part of this great organization," said Williams, a command sergeant major in the U.S. Army Reserves. "They've given me the farewell and the given me the welcome coming back."
Eramet Marietta consists of 19 buildings along Ohio 7 south of Marietta. As portions of the Union Carbide complex were sold off, Norwegian company Elkem Metals purchased the manganese and chromium units in 1982. The France-based Eramet Group bought the facility in 1999.