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City loses Alcoa HQ

| Saturday, Feb. 25, 2006, 12:00 p.m.

Start spreading the news. Alcoa Inc. now wakes up in a city that never sleeps: New York, New York.

After more than a century headquartered in Pittsburgh, the world's aluminum giant has quietly uprooted its headquarters. Alcoa directors declared the "principal office" to be New York at a board meeting on Feb. 17, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Perhaps more than anything, the change means a loss of prestige to Pittsburgh. When the next Fortune 500 listing of America's largest corporations appears in early April, the magazine will list Alcoa's headquarters as "New York," said Alcoa spokesman Kevin Lowery.

Pittsburgh was once headquarters for as many as 12 Fortune 500 companies. The magazine listed seven Pittsburgh-based corporations last year. Ranked by revenue, Alcoa listed highest (79th) among Pittsburgh companies in the tabulation.

The Pittsburgh industrial icon was founded here in 1888. It currently employs about 129,000 people worldwide, including 2,000 in the Pittsburgh area. The numbers are split equally between the North Shore headquarters and the Alcoa Technical Center in New Kensington, Westmoreland County.

"This may be much ado about nothing, but in Pittsburgh, perception is a big thing," said Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a Castle Shannon-based think tank. "We don't want to lose a hockey team, and we don't want to lose a corporate headquarters."

Company documents state Pittsburgh remains Alcoa's "corporate center," a reference to the main office on the North Shore that opened in 2001, plus an annex a block away that opened later.

"The company is still committed to Pittsburgh," said Lowery. He terms the board's decision as a "change in nomenclature" and not a harbinger of downsizing Alcoa in Pittsburgh.

"The legal definition is where your principal office is," said Lowery. "So we are now in line with what took place five years ago."

Alcoa opened an office in Manhattan in 2000 for its top executives, including CEO Alain Belda. The office opened with -- and still has -- about 60 employees, including support staff.

Belda explained at the time that because Alcoa truly operates around the globe, the corporation needed to have an office in New York, the world's financial capital.

In 2001, at Alcoa's annual shareholders meeting in Pittsburgh, Belda told a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter, "I want this to be clear that the corporate headquarters will be here. ... Pittsburgh is our corporate headquarters."

"We don't use the term 'headquarters' anymore" and haven't for at least four years, said Lowery. He said the corporate center, as it's known throughout the company, remains the North Shore facility.

Lowery said Alcoa is still legally incorporated in Pennsylvania and that the Alcoa Foundation, which donated about $1 million last year, remains based in Pittsburgh.

"We understand the sensitivity to this in Pittsburgh," he said.

"Hypothetically, if the headquarters officially has been moved to New York, perhaps it has some tax implications," said Haulk. "Beyond that, there is the perception, 'What's wrong with Pittsburgh?' If it's just a few people, what's the point• Why do it at all?"

"Paul O'Neill (Belda's predecessor) seemed to do all right in Pittsburgh," he said.

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