Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at [email protected]
Driving east along SR 14 these days, you see water pouring out of Columbia River dams. It is already a high water year with much of the runoff from our heavy mountain snowpack yet to come.
It is part of our “feast or famine” weather cycle. As you pop over the hilltop near the historic Maryhill Museum, you look down to see John Day Dam with its floodgates open spilling massive amounts of water.
Then you see remains of the razed Goldendale Aluminum Co. smelter next to the dam. That plant once accounted for 1,300 jobs, $40 million in personal income and $2 million in Klickitat County taxes. Now, you just see concrete pads, a water tower and a small office.
Twenty years ago, Goldendale was a vibrant plant. It was one of 10 “reduction works” melting imported ore into aluminum in Washington, Oregon and Montana. Those plants were not only critical to our region’s economy, but they were vital to our nation’s World War II effort. The first plants at Vancouver and Longview supplied the light-weight sturdy metal to Boeing for Army Air Corps bombers.
Today, the smelters are gone. The last two at Ferndale and Wenatchee closed two years ago. So are the jobs, taxes and economic impact. In 1998, Washington’s aluminum industry employed more than 7,500 people. Workers earned $50,000 a year with good benefits, health insurance and retirement. In addition, the industry spent $1.83 billion annually in purchased goods and services creating additional revenue and employment.
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