Investments Take Hold at Howmet Aerospace Niles Plant

NILES, Ohio — More than $5 million of investments in new machinery and upgrades at Howmet Aerospace’s titanium production plant here bodes well for the future of the facility, officials said Monday.

It’s a turn of good fortune compared to more than a year ago when the company contemplated shutting down the operation’s melt shop – a decision that could have had a devastating impact on workers there.

“If we would’ve lost melt in our facility, I still believe to this day the Niles plant would’ve closed,” said Terry Thirion, president of United Steel Workers Local 2155.

Instead, managers and labor officials with the assistance of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan’s office last year arrived at an agreement that would keep the furnaces operational at the mill. Howmet agreed to invest at least $2.5 million in upgrades at the mill, but the deal also conceded to layoffs at the plant, according to published reports.

“It was a very hard agreement to make,” Thirion said. The local operations employ 372 workers, he added. “We are actually bringing people back to work and slowly starting to expand.”

Thirion, Mike Mignogna, vice president of Local 2155, and Heidi Young, president of Local 2155’s clerical and technical department joined Ryan at a press conference at the local’s union hall after the congressman toured the plant.

Thus far, the company has delivered on its investment promises – and more, Thirion said. “Last year, they invested $4 million at the plant,” he said, noting that investment today exceeds $5 million.

Approximately $3 million of the capital expenditures was dedicated to new equipment, while another $2 million to $2.5 million was used for upgrades, Thirion said.

Part of this investment was used to automate some production processes, Thirion said. However, the Niles plant is melting one million pounds of titanium per month – more capacity than the company anticipated, he said.

Ryan, D-13, said Howmet’s operations are of vital important to national security because of it’s a major supplier to the defense industry, manufacturing titanium for projects such as the U.S. Air Force’s Joint-Strike fighter jet.

The congressman is vice chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and noted that 37% of Howmet’s business companywide is with the U.S. military.

“Our goal is to make sure defense monies are being spent in communities that have lost a lot of manufacturing over the years,” Ryan said, noting closing Howmet Aerospace Niles’ melt shop would have been “unacceptable.”

Ryan said cooperation between the union and management saved the plant from closure, and lauded the efforts as a model from which to move forward.

There are challenges, the congressman said. Howmet, for example, imports all of its titanium sponge – the raw material that is used to manufacture mill products in Niles – from Japan.

That’s because the sole U.S. manufacturer of the material – Timet Henderson in Nevada – ceased sponge production in 2020, citing the impact of COVID-19 on the aerospace industry.

However, a 15% tariff that was placed on Japanese imports still remains on the books, which Ryan said he is working to rescind. Removing the tariff would lower the cost of production to the plant.

“We have to make sure we have the equipment, the planes and the systems we need to compete and make sure we’re the dominant force in the world,” the congressman said. “That goes from the Pentagon down to Niles, Ohio, and all points in between.”

Earlier on Monday, Ryan announced $4.35 million in federal dollars to support three community projects on Youngstown’s South Side.

These projects include $1.5 million for Boys and Girls Club of Youngstown’s Community Backyard project, a plan to renovate 200,000 square-feet of property the club owns; $850,000 for the Mahoning Valley Community School; and $2 million for the Youngstown Community Food Center.

The money was part of $18 million the congressman secured for the 13th District from the fiscal 2022 federal funding package signed into law March 10.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.