Columbiana County Works to Attract Aluminum Operation

LISBON, Ohio – Columbiana County is looking to become the home of the first new American aluminum smelter built in 42 years.

The Columbiana County Port Authority Board of Directors passed a resolution Monday authorizing on tax exempt revenue obligations for the project.

According to port authority CEO Penny Traina, the joint venture between Chicago-based Century Aluminum and St. Louis-based MX Holdings would use the latest technology from start to finish to produce low-carbon, highly recycled aluminum for all segments of the market.

Traina said this would include automotive, building and construction and renewable energy, with the new venture being the largest American-owned secondary billet supplier worldwide. 

MX Holdings – the parent company of Pennex Aluminum Co., located in the World Trade Park in Leetonia – would retain 51% controlling interest in the new joint venture with Century Aluminum and would build and operate the facility.

Plans call for breaking ground for the new facility this year at one of three locations in the Ohio Valley or Pennsylvania, with the World Trade Park among the sites being considered.

Operations would begin in the fourth quarter of 2026, with approximately 55 employees hired at various levels and skill sets.

Traina said there are only a few aluminum smelters remaining in the United States, and the one being planned in this venture would employ cutting-edge technology in its operations. 

While the location for the new plant has not yet been decided, Traina said the port authority has been working with the companies for months. 

“We are committed to bringing that company and those jobs to Columbiana County. We look forward to working with them,” Traina said. “We are extremely excited about this huge economic development opportunity for Columbiana County.” 

Traina said the port authority also has been working with its partners at Team NEO, Jobs Ohio, the Ohio Department of Transportation, the village of Leetonia, county commissioners and the county Economic Development Department on structuring a competitive incentive package. 

“The company has always been a great community partner, and we are here to support their expansion in any way we can,” Traina said.

In a March 13 joint press release from Century Aluminum and MX Holdings provided to the board by Traina, a memorandum of understanding between the two companies about the establishment of the joint venture was announced. 

Contacted after the meeting, Mark Butterfield, president of manufacturing for MX Holdings, said he anticipates the chosen location to be announced within the next 90 days.

Butterfield said incentives are being prepared by officials in the locations interested in attracting the new operation. 

“I love the location near Leetonia. It is a great place to work in, and I feel it would be a great location. I’m hopeful we can work something out,” Butterfield said.

He said the demand for aluminum is growing, so the company foresees growth not only with the new facility but the existing Pennex facility.

“I hope the demand helps us grow the business and the workforce,” Butterfield said. 

He said the demand for aluminum has increased because it is highly recyclable and sustainable, and the new plant will produce a low-carbon product, for which there is a large demand. 

The resolution serves as an official acknowledgement that the port authority may issue tax-exempt obligations in support of the project. But it does not obligate the port authority to issue any bonds or the company to borrow any tax-exempt bond proceeds. The bond issue is not to exceed $130 million.

According to Russell Bathis, the port authority’s bond counsel from Squire Patton Boggs who attended the meeting, the resolution does not obligate the port authority to spend any money at all on the project.

“It gives official notice of intent that the port authority reasonably expects to potentially issue tax exempt bonds in support of a project that qualifies for tax exempt bonds. It allows expenses that occur now to be reimbursed later, and they only have to reimburse for expenses now if bonds are issued later,” Bathis said.

Pictured at top: A sign at the World Trade Park in Leetonia.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.