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Alcoa lays off 50 workers at tech center in Upper Burrell

| Tuesday, March 17, 2015, 5:09 p.m.

Alcoa Inc. laid off 50 workers at its research center in Upper Burrell and is planning to sell an alumina refinery in South America as the company focuses on cutting expenses and reducing aluminum production because of low prices.

The cuts at the research facility, made last week, represented 8 percent of the Alcoa Technical Center's 600 employees and were part of an “internal reorganization to more closely align with the priorities of our businesses,” spokeswoman Tracie Gliozzi said Tuesday.

The New York-based company, which employs 2,000 workers in the Pittsburgh region, has taken steps to diversify its business beyond its traditional mining and smelting roots and emphasize higher-margin products for the auto and aerospace industries.

In a separate announcement, Alcoa said it plans to curtail production at its Suralco alumina refinery in the Republic of Suriname while it negotiates a sale of the facility to that country's government.

The company this month said it was reviewing about 16 percent of its global refining and 14 percent of its aluminum smelting capacity for closure or sale as part of a strategy to reduce costs.

Suralco — a joint venture plant majority owned by Alcoa — would see about 20 percent of its capacity cut by April 30 in the curtailment, Alcoa said. The company expects to reach a sales agreement with Suriname officials by July 1.

“Reducing the production of the refinery will assist in extending the life of the operations as we continue to work with the government of Suriname on the transaction,” Bob Wilt, president of Alcoa Global Primary Products, said in a statement.

The plant, which employs 700 people, has a total refining capacity of 2.2 million metric tons a year, of which 876,000 metric tons were previously idled.

Alcoa stock closed Tuesday at $13.07, down 23 cents a share, or 1.7 percent.

The company has idled about 19 percent of its smelting capacity and 7 percent of its alumina refining capacity since starting cost-reduction initiatives in 2010.

Alcoa owns or has interests in 20 smelters in the United States, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Norway, Iceland, Spain and Saudi Arabia. It owns or has interests in nine refineries in the United States, Brazil, Spain, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Suriname.

While cutting production capacity, Alcoa has been acquiring companies that supply parts to automakers and aircraft manufacturers. Last week, the company said it would buy RTI International Metals Inc., a Moon-based titanium maker, for $1.5 billion.

Alcoa called the RTI acquisition “a major milestone” in its transformation. The deal would give Alcoa a larger footprint in the titanium industry, which the company said is the world's fastest-growing aerospace metal.

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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