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Missouri governor lauds plan for new aluminum smelter

A new aluminum smelter will open in the Missouri Bootheel region in May, replacing roughly half of the jobs lost when another smelter shut down two years ago.

Magnitude 7 Metals plans to hire 450 people for its plant in the former Noranda Aluminum smelter in New Madrid County, near the tiny town of Marston, about 150 miles south of St. Louis. CEO Bob Prusak said 140 people have already been hired. One line of the plant will open in May, and the second in November.

Republican Gov. Eric Greitens said the plant provides an opportunity for the economically troubled region to turn around its fortunes.

"The people of southeast Missouri are proud," Greitens said during a news conference at the site. "The people of southeast Missouri are ready to work. The people of southeast Missouri are ready to stand up and fight for their families."

Greitens' appearance comes as he faces an invasion of privacy indictment in St. Louis related to an affair he had with his hairdresser in March 2015, before he was elected governor. A Missouri House commission also is investigating the governor. Since the indictment last month, his office has ramped up policy announcements and public appearances, although most of his visits across the state have not been widely publicized in advance.

Friday's appearance was publicized, but the governor took no questions from the media. He was warmly received by the crowd of several hundred people.

About 900 jobs were lost when Noranda shut down in March 2016, a huge blow to New Madrid County, where 24 percent of residents live below the poverty line. Statewide, Missouri's poverty rate was 14.8 percent in 2015, according to census data.

Several speakers lauded President Donald Trump's policies, including steep tariffs on imported aluminum and steel that Trump announced Thursday.

"We've passed major tax cuts, repealed regulations at historic rates and lowered energy prices, all to ultimately help the American worker," U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, a Republican, said. "Now, with the president's commitment to new, fairer trade deals, we are bringing back the domestic aluminum and steel industries and with it, jobs."

State lawmakers in a special session last May approved a measure allowing large utility customers to negotiate lower electric rates in an effort to help replace the Noranda plant. Power to the new plant will be supplied by Associated Electric Cooperative Inc., which does not require regulatory approval from the Missouri Public Service Commission because it is not an investor-owned utility. But Parker Briden, a spokesman for Greitens, said the bill passed last year "kept the project viable and moving forward."

Greitens said in November that the new law also proved beneficial when Nucor, the largest U.S. steel producer, announced it was opening a micro-mill in the Sedalia area, creating 250 jobs.

___

This story has been corrected to show that Magnitude 7 Metals is an American company, not Swiss-based.

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