BRIAN C. RITTMEYER|Thursday, August 20, 2020 5:37 p.m.
A $6 million project is keeping 50 manufacturing jobs in the Alle-Kiski Valley.
Affival Inc. had been considering moving out of Pennsylvania when its lease in Plum ran out. Instead, it settled on relocating to New Kensington Advanced Manufacturing Park — the former Schreiber Industrial Park — which straddles New Kensington and Arnold.
Affival supplies the steel industry with cored wire products that are used to change the properties of steel.
Its new home is a 145,000-square-foot building in Arnold that had sat empty for a year. It previously housed Siemens and, before that, Alcoa.
“These buildings were the buildings of the Aluminum City. This was the Aluminum Co. of America,” New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo said. “This was originally an advanced manufacturing plant in 1893. So it only seems fitting that an advanced manufacturing company be in this space from here on out.”
Construction started in November. Affival’s move was completed June 30, and the company began operating there in mid-July, said William Kodatsky, chief operating officer for Opta Group, of which Affival is a part.
About three to four weeks were lost to the covid-19 pandemic, he said.
Kodatsky said the company had considered moving to Indiana or Kentucky. Mexico also was a possibility, said Eric Wiklendt, director of Speyside Equity and chairman of the board at Opta.
“We were being courted. There were a number of options available to us,” Kodatsky said.
“This literally, at the 11th hour, came up. It was the right configuration for what we do. It’s the perfect facility.”
Taxpayers chipped in $1 million
Pennsylvania contributed $1 million toward the company’s relocation, while Opta invested another $3 million and is paying on a $2 million loan.
The $1 million state grant went toward the building’s floor, plumbing and roof drainage, said Brian Clark, a redevelopment advisor to the city.
The company is paying on a $2 million loan taken out by the city’s redevelopment authority through its lease payments, Clark said. That money was spent on the roof.
“We had a, probably, 75-year-old roof up there. It’s not a simple roof,” Kodatsky said. “With the products we make, we can’t have water in that building. That was our most significant challenge.
“Our process is extremely finicky. We needed to make sure the floor was dead-flat level.”
Other costs included buying two new cranes and moving equipment from Plum to Arnold, Kodatsky said.
Wiklendt said the long, open building is more efficient, allowing for material to flow naturally. He noted its high ceiling and abundant natural light.
“It feels good in here,” he said. “For us, this is a great space. If we could start from scratch and design a space, it would look like this.”
Keeping all jobs, might add more
Wiklendt — who has grandparents from Lower Burrell and other relatives in the area — said the company kept all its employees from its Plum facility, and more could be added as the economy improves.
“This is a good investment for us. It’s an opportunity to continue to grow in the area,” he said. “As the economy recovers from covid, this will be a nice place to be to run our North American operations from in terms of manufacturing.”
By staying in the area, Kodatsky said the company benefited from being able to keep its employees.
“We didn’t have to worry about trying to find new people and skilled labor,” he said.
State Sen. Jim Brewster, D-McKeesport, said the most important thing is when people drive by and see the once-empty building brought back to life.
“When this opens, something else will open,” said Brewster, a former McKeesport mayor.
“What’s going on in New Kensington and Arnold is impressive. I went through the same thing in McKeesport. They’re very similar. We bottomed out through no fault of anybody’s. An industry left us. We got to rebuild it 50, 60, 100 jobs at a time and give people hope. That’s what our job is.”
State Rep. Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, said saving 50 steel jobs is “a big deal.”
“It’s a big deal at any time,” Dermody said. “But it’s a heck of a big deal at the height of this pandemic — 50 people working, feeding their families, earning family sustaining wages.”