State can help save Ormet plant

O hio Gov. John Kasich’s staff should have just one thing to say to Eric J. Spirtas:

“How may we help?”

Spirtas is president of Niagara Worldwide, the Wisconsin company that last week submitted the high bid for the bankrupt Ormet Corp.’s assets. Niagara Worldwide will pay $25.25 million.

That comes as welcome news to nearly 1,000 local men and women who once worked at Ormet’s aluminum plant at Hannibal. Except for a skeleton crew left to watch over the idled facility, nearly all Ormet’s employees lost their jobs last fall.

Niagara Worldwide specializes in buying idled industrial properties and other assets. Then, should the company devise a business plan for use of the properties, it can seek partners and investors for new ventures.

Spirtas said it is not known how the Hannibal plant will be handled. Obviously, though he did not say so, the possibilities range from selling machinery and other assets and leaving the plant idle to finding a way to fire up the potlines again.

“It’s too early for speculation and we’re not magic,” Spirtas cautioned last week.

Still, he said one reason Ormet was attractive to his company was its workforce and local resources. “With the great labor base out there, somehow, some way, we want to find something that benefits everyone down the road,” Spirtas said.

That certainly is reason for laid-off Ormet workers – and those of us who consider them neighbors – to be cautiously optimistic.

But resuming aluminum production or engaging in any other type of manufacturing will not be easy. Ormet went into bankruptcy proceedings because of lower-than-acceptable prices for aluminum and electric bills that were too high.

State government cannot overcome all obstacles facing Spirtas and laid-off Ormet workers. But there are ways in which it can help.

The same eagerness with which economic development officials address potential new businesses should be focused on getting an old one, Ormet, back on its feet. If no one from Kasich’s office has contacted Spirtas yet, the governor should instruct that a call be made.

Asking how state government can help would be an excellent way to begin the conversation.