By MELISSA CROCKETT MESKE
Leaders at Wieland Rolled Products North America were joined by Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Kristin Richards on Jan. 17 at the company’s East Alton facility to announce Wieland’s added investment of $500 million. The investment is planned to re-equip, expand and modernize the facility, subject to the approval of state and local incentives.
A host of other local leaders and partners were further on hand for the announcement of this new Reimagining Energy and Vehicles in Illinois (REV Illinois) agreement that supports Wieland’s investment in modernizing its East Alton facility – one of six across Illinois. Wieland’s footprint in Illinois also includes facilities in Carol Stream, Granite City, Montgomery, Tinley Park, and Wheeling.
Wieland’s total incentive package from the State of Illinois, which includes REV and other incentives, is valued at approximately $231 million. Through REV, Wieland is eligible to receive tax benefits totaling $172 million over 30 years. The remaining benefits include capital funding for infrastructure projects in East Alton, which includes the construction of a new electricity substation, flexible funds for workforce support, and additional tax incentives.
This investment, which also retains 800 jobs across the state, will enable the company to increase production of critical copper and copper alloy components used in electric vehicles (EVs), EV charging infrastructure and renewable energy production while supporting the state’s clean energy economy.
“Copper is not only integral to the energy transition, it is the foundation of a sustainable future,” said Wieland CEO Dr. Erwin Mayr. “This investment positions Wieland as the undisputed leader in North American rolled products and underscores our commitment to the revitalization of American manufacturing. This investment represents our dedication to respond to our customers’ evolving needs, bringing long-term sustainable solutions to the North American market. The project will allow Wieland to significantly expand future capacity and deepen our collaboration with our customers in building towards a more sustainable future.”
Dr. Mayr also noted the East Alton site’s history, paying homage to its heritage:
“Wieland intends to embark on a comprehensive modernization of this facility signifying our commitment to technological advancement, sustainability, and our valued customers in North America. However, it’s not just an important day for Wieland. It’s a defining moment for American manufacturing and this facility’s more than 100 years history. In 1916, Franklin Olin, an American titan of our industry, founded Western Cartridge Company that would later become Olin Brass. Since then, this facility and the generations of workers who have called it home have always risen to the occasion to meet the needs of the United States and the North American market more broadly.
He continued: “To this day, this facility supplies more than half of all copper alloy strip that goes into U.S. coinage and is by far the largest supplier of small caliber cartridge brass to the Lake City Army Ammunitions Plant in Independence, Missouri. As we gather at this moment, we continue to uphold the tradition of innovation, resilience and unwavering commitment, propelling us to the next century with the same spirit. The world needs copper today more than ever. Copper is an integral part of the energy transition. Not only that, copper is the foundation and the lifeblood of a more sustainable future.”
The planned modernization will pave the way for increased and improved production of high-quality copper and copper alloy components for EVs, EV charging infrastructure and renewable energy production through the installation of a new state-of-the-art hot rolling mill in the East Alton facility. By re-equipping, expanding and modernizing its facility, Wieland will increase its operational efficiency and deliver even higher standards of quality and reliability for its portfolio of copper and copper alloy rolled product solutions.
“Copper production is an essential part of a sustainable manufacturing future in Illinois, and Wieland’s commitment to increased capacity will benefit other sustainable industries across the state, further growing this thriving sector,” said Gov. Pritzker. “Wieland’s leading work in copper solutions is a major part of the East Alton economy, and I’m grateful that they have reaffirmed their commitment to sustainable manufacturing and to the community.”
The announcement is the product of a year of work between the State and Wieland to ensure Illinois secured this transformative investment. Wieland’s modern plant in Vöhringen, Germany, which Gov. Pritzker toured alongside Wieland CEO Dr. Mayr, was used as a benchmark for the modernization of the East Alton facility.
“Today’s announcement is about leveraging Wieland’s more than 200-year history to build upon the 100-year history of our East Alton facility,” said Greg Keown, president of Wieland Rolled Products North America. “I’m incredibly grateful to Governor Pritzker, Deputy Governor Andy Manar, Senator Dick Durbin, Senator Tammy Duckworth, Representative Nikki Budzinski, the team at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, the Village of East Alton and Mayor Darren Carlton, and Madison County, who worked tirelessly to make this project a reality. This is a shining example of how public-private partnerships are intended to work.”
“Wieland’s facility modernization project is an extraordinary example of what happens when we prioritize investing in our state’s world-class workforce and preserving a century-old relationship with a business that has deep Illinois roots,” DCEO Director Kristin Richards added. “This investment will help bolster the State of Illinois’ clean energy economy and is an investment in the future of manufacturing jobs in East Alton.”
“I’m thrilled that Wieland Rolled Products has chosen their East Alton facility to reinvest in advanced manufacturing jobs in the Metro East,” said Rep. Amy Elik (R-Alton). “Today’s announcement would not have happened without the collaboration and cooperation from state, federal, and local leaders coming together with company officials to keep these skilled jobs right here in East Alton.”
“The Metro East is a fantastic location with strong communities and endless opportunities for growth and investment,” noted Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville). “I’m thrilled—but not surprised in the least—to see that another profitable and productive enterprise has recognized our potential and has chosen to continue to move forward with us and continue investing in the East Alton community.”
Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) added, “This announcement reflects the significant investment our state has put into the Metro East’s infrastructure and workforce development, helping to attract projects that will positively impact our region for years to come. Wieland’s commitment is a win for Metro East working families, and it highlights the positive direction our area is heading.”
“Our state has taken strong steps to invest in infrastructure and workforce development, and this effort pays dividends when you see projects like this,” Hoffman noted in a later published official statement. “This investment is going to support local jobs, attract further economic development and position our region for future growth.”
“Responsibly managing incentives helps to attract and develop large scale projects that can provide enormous benefits to the surrounding area,” Hoffman said further. “This plant is going to play a significant role in the economy of tomorrow, and I appreciate the advocacy from Governor Pritzker, Wieland’s leadership and local officials who got this agreement done.”
U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) also jointly issued a statement following the event, applauding the announcement by Wieland.
“Today’s landmark investment from Wieland will be critical in helping revitalize and modernize manufacturing in our state, producing important technology, helping reduce our state’s carbon footprint and protecting and sustaining good-paying jobs in the region,” Duckworth said. “I was proud to support Governor Pritzker’s efforts and champion this project at the federal level, and I’ll keep doing what I can to ensure more projects like this succeed throughout our state. Illinois is ready to help bring our world into the future—and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure the whole world knows it.”
“Wieland’s decision in making such a significant investment in Illinois not only fortifies our local manufacturing sector and the Illinois EV ecosystem, but also plays a crucial role in safeguarding hundreds of jobs across our state,” added Durbin. “By investing in our manufacturing capabilities, we’re securing our economic future and ensuring that the United States remains a formidable force on the global stage.”
The East Alton Wieland facility was known for decades locally as Olin Brass, and many still refer to it with that moniker today. Keown noted during the announcement event that the local site was approaching its fifth anniversary since being acquired by Wieland.
(Editor’s note: This story also appears in the February 2024 print edition of the Illinois Business Journal.)