RAVENSWOOD - Corporate, labor and government leaders unveiled a massive $46 million investment at the Constellium Rolled Products plant in Ravenswood Wednesday.
Officials said the new piece of equipment - a 30-million-pound aluminum stretcher - will give the plant the upper hand in the global marketplace and expressed hopes that it would mark a new beginning for union-company relations.
Christophe Villemin, Constellium's Global Aerospace Division president, joined Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and United Steelworkers Union leaders Wednesday to cut the ribbon on the new stretcher.
It is now the largest, most powerful of its kind in the world, Villemin said. It can pull large aluminum plates like a rubber band to either flatten the plates or relieve stress in the metal.
This means the Ravenswood plant can now process thicker and wider metal plates than any other aluminum manufacturer.
"It's the largest stretcher in the world with the largest pull force in the world, which enables the production of key parts and large parts for commercial aircraft like Boeing and Airbus, as well as the military and defense aircraft like F-35 for example," Villemin said.
But Villemin said the investment is about more than the manufacturing process.
"We're celebrating today the $46 million investment for Constellium as well as celebrating the trust in the management, the workforce and the community," he said.
"Competition is very tough out there," Villemin said. "But we believe that the future of Ravenswood lies in high tech, training the employees and also being a good citizen."
Words like "trust" and "being a good citizen" have a significant meaning at the Ravenswood plant.
Relations between the union and the nearly half-dozen corporations that have owned the plant in the past few decades have been strained.
In the early 1990s, the United Steelworkers Union Local 5668 endured a nearly two-year standoff with then-owner Ravenswood Aluminum Corp. when the company locked out union laborers.
The Constellium plant is adjacent to the Century Aluminum smelting plant, which closed in 2009. Union officials have been angry over the continued closure of that plant and Century's decision to end health care coverage for retirees.
The contrast in the union's attitude toward Constellium versus Century was clearly evident Wednesday.
"We have gone through a number of periods after the closing of Century Aluminum - who by the way are a bunch of rotten bastards for trying to take away people's health care," USW president Leo Gerard said Wednesday.
But he said Villemin came to him three years ago to talk about improving the Ravenswood plant.
"Christophe says, 'I believe in manufacturing, I believe in Ravenswood, I believe I can get more business into that plant, I believe I want to work with the union to do that,'" Gerard said.