By Isaac Bonnell
Few people have worked as hard as Mike Rousseau to keep the lights on and the doors open at Alcoa Intalco Works.
As the plant manager, Rousseau has worked tirelessly for the past two years to secure a power deal with the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) to keep the aluminum smelter operating.
Relief finally came on Dec. 21 when Alcoa and the BPA signed a 17-month agreement with provisions for a five-year extension. Though it is a short-term contract compared to the 20-year deal that was originally on the table, it signifies the persistence of a leader who refused to give up.
“What keeps me going is talking to the employees on the floor and seeing them want to succeed,” Rousseau said. “They ask about the power deal and they have a desire to be a part of the team out here.”
Coming into 2009, Alcoa had already cut 15,000 jobs internationally and was curtailing production at many of its aluminum smelters. Without a consistent supply of inexpensive energy, the future of Intalco Works was up in the air, said Bob Wilt, Alcoa’s president for U.S. Primary Products.
“Last year at this time we were talking about which plants to shut down or curtail and Mike came to us and said, ‘Just keep us open for a few more months. We’re so close to a power deal.’ And he was able to reduce costs and secure a new power deal,” Wilt said. “This would not be possible without the employees of Intalco, who are the best workers in Alcoa. Period.”
While negotiating a complex power deal, Rousseau was able to implement cost-saving measures throughout the operation, making it “one of the most efficient smelters in the U.S.” he said.
“It’s been quite a roller coaster ride,” he admitted. “But long term, we are still optimistic that the world market [for aluminum] will grow by about 3 percent.”
And that’s just enough light at the end of the tunnel to keep him going.