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Columbia Falls Aluminum Company Closing in July

By Beacon Staff

Officials with Columbia Falls Aluminum Co. plan to lay off their final 90 employees and close the plant at the end of July.

“We don’t see right now the relief in sight that would help us keep running,” Haley Beaudry, the company’s manager of external affairs, said Friday.

Beaudry said the nearly 55-year-old company had been expecting the closure. In fact, in December they announced plans to close in February, but an agreement with Bonneville Power for reduced electricity rates helped them keep the plant open longer.

Employees were given a required 60-day notice of layoffs a week ago.

Aluminum companies nationwide are struggling to stay open because the price of raw materials is increasing while the price of aluminum is dropping.

The plant laid off 124 people last summer. In recent months, it has been operating at just 10 percent of capacity.

Columbia Falls Aluminum’s planned closure is just the latest major layoff announced in the Flathead Valley. On Thursday, Plum Creek Timber Co. announced nearly 90 sawmill workers would lose their jobs later this month when it closes a mill in Evergreen and cuts back production at its Columbia Falls mill.

Lyle Mitchell, president of the Columbia Falls Chamber of Commerce, said it’s possible the Plum Creek jobs will be restored when the housing market improves. But he doesn’t hold out the same amount of hope for CFAC, noting that it’s competing in an international market in which other countries can continue to produce aluminum more cheaply.

Mitchell called the plant’s closure “kind of the end of an era.”

“It’s definitely going to have an impact,” he said. “Over a period of time, it’s provided some of the highest industrial wages in the area, so it’s going to be a big loss for the community.”

But he also notes that most of the remaining CFAC employees are at or past retirement age because the younger, newer employees were laid off first.

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