JW Aluminum's phase I expansion project nearly complete

An aerial of the JW Aluminum site in Goose Creek

One of the top economic development investments in Berkeley County is inching closer to fully operating phase I of its $300 million expansion initiative it first announced in 2018.

By spring 2020, JW Aluminum is anticipated to have its two newest buildings—a total of 220,000 square feet of additional space within the Mt. Holly Commerce Park—fully operational, according to company officials, who last month updated the county’s business community about the large-scale project.

“Berkeley County is excited for this new investment,” said Barry Jurs, economic development director for the county. “JW Aluminum’s expansion is testament that our local economy is strong and thriving. …This new investment has and will have a large impact on bringing money to our local economy.”

The expansion is expected to add 50 new jobs to the 388-member workforce currently employed at the local plant—its largest U.S.-based plant. As a whole, JW Aluminum boasts at least 800 employees across sites in four states.

According to JW Aluminum COO Stan Brant, who addressed a group of Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce members on July 30, the company has a “responsibility” to not only create jobs but also preserve high-quality manufacturing ones he characterized as “essential to a vibrant economy.”

To prepare for the expansion, Brant said current employees are also undergoing training—each completing about 2,000 hours of on-the-job work and 144 classroom hours as part of the Industrial Maintenance Technical Program through Trident Technical College and the S.C. Department of Commerce. They will learn how to successfully operate new, innovative technology that will operate at the plant.

“Everything we’re putting in is state-of-the-art in terms of environmental control,” Brant said. “Every step of the process—dross handling, melting, rolling—we’re using the best technology that’s available today because we want to make sure this facility is competitive on a global basis for at least 30 years.”

On an annual basis, JW Aluminum’s four plants nationwide produce a combined 360 pounds of flat-rolled aluminum, which company officials explained show up in everyday essentials—products ranging from large metal roofing and aluminum siding to the insides of lids on food containers like yogurt and chips.

While the company’s entire feedstock is about 65 percent scrap aluminum, its newest buildings in Goose Creek will maintain a feedstock of 100 percent scrap aluminum—due to the nature of aluminum.

“Nearly 75 percent of all aluminum produced in the U.S. is still in use today because (it) is infinitely recyclable, unlike plastic,” Brant said.

To locate enough feedstock for its local plant, the company searches up to 300 miles away, officials said. The company also ships from the Midwest to get in enough scrap material.

“We would like to see even more aluminum come into this area,” Brant said. “It doesn’t need to go into a landfill.”

Company officials explained it was through market research that they learned about an “unmet need” for aluminum for the booming housing market and that JW Aluminum could help satisfy that need.

“Over next decade (there’s a) need to build at least 16 million new housing units in addition to refurbishing and repairing existing homes,” Brant said, “and there’s a lack of domestic investment in the aluminum industry to support the building and construction industry so (it was a) prudent choice to invest. …We’re taking care of some of those essential needs.”

And it seemed most appropriate to invest in its Berkeley County location for its expansion.

“This is our home,” Brant said about the company commencing operations in the county in 1980. “It’s a wonderful place to invest, live and work so that’s why we’re here. …We were) fully embraced here.”

In December, County Supervisor Johnny Cribb also commended the company’s success and nearly unmatched economic impact on the area in the last three-plus decades, after the South Carolina Department of Commerce recognized JW Aluminum as one of the Palmetto State’s largest economic investments of 2018—fourth to be exact.

“This industry has helped create phenomenal opportunity for Goose Creek residents and has become an important member of the corporate family in Berkeley County,” Cribb said in a county statement.

According to JW Aluminum officials, the $300 investment is actually contributing to a much larger money-making effort, especially since a host of other local companies are supporting the company’s services.

“We’re building a billion-dollar business here,” Brant said. “Our Mt. Holly facility alone drives about $465 million of economic activity in this region.”

But just as one expansion project comes to a close, another will simultaneously ramp up at the local site. Brant said phase 2—a $100 million investment—is starting this spring and should be complete by 2023.

“We’ve worked decades to make this story come true,” Brant said.

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