Century Aluminum closure could have major impact on local small businesses

Berkeley County News

BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Fallout from Tuesday’s announcement that Century Aluminum will close by the end of the year if they cannot get a better electricity rate continues in Berkeley County.

Century wants the utility provider to allow them to buy all their electricity on the open market at cheaper rates. Right now, they buy 25% of their electricity from Santee Cooper at higher than market prices.

The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce held a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the issue, which could result in hundreds of lost jobs, and how closing the plant would have a big impact on many local small businesses.

“We’d probably lose a million and a half, to two million in sales,” said Charles Swicord, the president and owner of Allen and Webb.

His company provides maintenance and repair services to plants like Century Aluminum. He said losing the plant as a customer would cut out about 10-15% of their business.

“What kind of impact would $1 million less in sales have on your business? Might have to look at laying somebody off. I mean we don’t want to do that, but that’s possible.”

Michael Brakefield is the environmental health and safety manager for Phillips Industrial Services.

“They are a good client and good friends, and we’ve done a lot of work there over the years; steady work, we’ve been in and out of the plant on a monthly basis,” he said.

Brakefield’s company handles industrial coatings and other elements for Century Aluminum from time to time.

“We have a crew of three to four people who work there on a regular basis and that would be one less client for them. And perhaps we would not be in a position for her to have to lay off a great number of people, but every local business counts,” he said.

Swicord sees a path forward.

“Well there’s gonna have to be compromise. Maybe Century’s got to give a little bit and Santee Cooper’s got to give a little bit, but it just doesn’t make any sense just to, you know, stare each other down and go out of business.”

Century officials say if nothing happens, they will shut down December 31 if a deal is not reached.

Santee Cooper sent a statement to News 2 which reads:

“Aluminum prices plummeted after the Great Recession and never recovered, although recent trends are promising. Santee Cooper industrial rates are 20% lower than the national average. For years, as the aluminum market struggled, Santee Cooper has done its best to help Century lower its costs at Mt. Holly. We are working on new ideas that we hope to discuss with Century soon. Meanwhile, today’s Wall Street Journal noted that aluminum prices are currently surging. We hope that our offer to extend the current Mt. Holly contract for a year will provide time for aluminum prices to continue to improve, to avoid the threatened shutdown.”

We have no word at this point about what the new ideas are that Santee Cooper hopes to discuss with Century.

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