Manufacturing is returning to a piece of property in Jackson County that has been dormant since at least 2015.
Precision Castparts Corp., a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables, will open a titanium aerospace parts manufacturing facility on the former site of Century Aluminum, in Ravenswood, West Virginia officials announced Tuesday.
The $500 million microgrid and manufacturing development is expected to create at least 200 jobs early on, with up to 1,000 jobs possible within a few years, West Virginia Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael said Tuesday.
Carmichael held back tears as he spoke during the official announcement of the deal at the state Culture Center as he reflected on his father and grandfather, both of whom worked in manufacturing on the property being developed in the deal he brokered.
“When these jobs are created, it changes lives,” Carmichael said. “It affects families and future generations. I woke up this morning thinking about the significance of this moment for Jackson County and for this plant. I found my dad’s badge that he wore for 35 years on that property. This makes a difference in people’s lives.”
Century Aluminum stopped production in 2009 and closed for good in 2015, according to the company’s website.
Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables will supply solar energy to the facility and will be able to sell the energy to entities within a newly established “high-impact industrial business development district,” a program that allows new businesses to sell renewable energy they generate. The West Virginia Legislature established that policy Monday in adopting Senate Bill 4001.
The Economic Development Authority approved the sale of more than 2,045 acres of the former Century Aluminum property to Berkshire Hathaway during a special meeting Tuesday morning.
The authority also approved the establishment of the development district less than 24 hours after the Legislature created the law establishing them.
Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, commended legislators Tuesday for their work.
“This is the way things are working in West Virginia now — at the speed of business, instead of the speed of government,” Blair said.
The Legislature adopted the bill in bipartisan votes with only three legislators voting against it Monday.
House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, reflected on the scale of the new investment in terms of dollars and what it means to the state.
“Having you here in West Virginia does more than just help the men and women who are going to work in your factory and be in your facility every day,” Hanshaw said. “It helps our state. It helps our economy. It helps the entire image of the state of West Virginia to be your partners.”
The development comes a little more than a year after Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, sent letters directly to nine investors, including Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, telling them about West Virginia and the opportunities to invest here.
Jeffries said he fell to his knees about two weeks later when he got a phone call from former Berkshire Hathaway official Bill Furman, who confirmed that Buffett had read Jeffries’ letter and was interested in talking more about developing a facility in West Virginia.
“It’s by working together that we have come to where we’re at today,” Jeffries said during the official announcement. “West Virginia is the place people are looking for. People are looking to locate here. We can see, working together, what we can do here in West Virginia.”
Alicia Knapp, president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables, announced during the event that the company is donating $500,000 to United Way of the Mid-Ohio Valley, which supports Jackson and surrounding counties.
“I’ve met so many fine people from Jackson County today and can see the excitement in the community already,” Knapp said. “This project demonstrates how investing in clean energy can revive economies that have served our country.”
The titanium manufacturing facility is meant to be the first company in the high-impact industrial business development district, which, by law, has to attract at least two new businesses and can include an expansion of an existing business.
“Manufacturing our products with 100% renewable energy benefits not only Precision Castparts Corp. but also our customers as we strive to minimize the impact of our operations and wisely use our natural resources,” said Steve Wright, president of PCC Metals, TIMET, and Special Metals Corp.
Gov. Jim Justice noted that this is the second major development announced this year, referring back to the Nucor development planned for Mason County.
“West Virginia is really on the move, and I’m really, really proud,” Justice said. “Lots and lots of folks here have made a lot of contributions, and we’re absolutely thankful to all of them.”
Justice signed SB 4001 into law during the ceremony Tuesday.
The law creates two high-impact industrial business development districts, in which companies using renewable energy will be able to sell that energy to other entities in the district, including power companies, outside of the jurisdiction of the West Virginia Public Service Commission with respect to rates and certificates of convenience or necessity.
The companies would be allowed to use existing energy infrastructure to distribute power.
To be eligible, the districts would have to attract at least two new or expanded businesses, and those businesses cannot take up more than 2,250 acres. The future Precision Castparts property is a little more than 2,045 acres, according to Jackson County Assessor’s Office records.
The businesses will have to be located on land sold or leased by state agencies or on land previously used for coal mining to be eligible for the program.