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Jupiter Aluminum eyes new products, markets

Keywords: Tags  Jupiter Aluminum, Paul-Henri Chevalier, RG Steel, Wheeling Corrugated, West Virginia site, paint line, slitter, aluminum Michael Cowden

CHICAGO — Jupiter Aluminum Corp. is looking to expand into new products and markets from its location at the former RG Steel LLC Wheeling Corrugating Co. facility in Beech Bottom, W.Va.

The paint line, which Jupiter is currently refurbishing and upgrading, will allow the aluminum company to both paint wider material and also apply two coats of paint, something it hadn’t been able to do on equipment at its existing locations in the Midwest, company president Paul-Henri Chevalier said in a recent interview with AMM.

Schiller Park, Ill.-based Jupiter is employing former RG employees to upgrade the paint line as it looks to produce trial orders this summer, Chevalier said. The company has also purchased a slitter from a steel company that is being installed at the West Virginia site, as Jupiter aims not only to move into new markets but also to serve customers in East Coast and Mid-Atlantic states, he said.

Chevalier declined to say how much Jupiter was investing in West Virginia or what new products the company might make, citing competitive reasons. Nor would he say where Jupiter acquired the slitter, although he noted that it, too, came from a steel company.

Jupiter’s expansion in West Virginia comes as it eyes the slowly recovering U.S. housing sector, Chevalier said. "We are still way, way behind where this (housing) market should be," he said. "However, you have to get ready. And you don’t get ready when the market gets to its potential. You have to get ready before the market comes back."

Building permits were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 974,000 in May 2013, down 3.1 percent from April but up 20.8 percent from May 2012, the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data show. Housing starts were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 914,000 in May 2013, up 6.8 percent and 28.6 percent in the same comparisons.

Housing starts have averaged 1.5 million per year in the past, Chevalier said.

Jupiter will ramp up production as demand increases, potentially employing as many as 40 to 50 people in West Virginia within two years, Chevalier said. It was in large part the availability of "fully trained" employees that helped Jupiter decide to expand, he said.

"Most of the people (Jupiter hires) will be former (RG) employees. ... They are people who know how to work, know the area and know the paint line," Chevalier said. "The paint line by itself would not have been enough to make Jupiter jump into an adventure."

Jupiter didn’t want to move the paint line because doing so would have entailed recruiting and training new workers, he said.

While Jupiter owns the equipment in West Virginia, it is renting building space, including office space, from Los Angeles-based industrial real estate firm Hackman Capital Partners LLC, Chevalier said, noting that Hackman is making necessary repairs and maintenance to the property.

Besides working with skilled employees and acquiring affordable equipment, Jupiter has found West Virginia to be a "great state to do business in," Chevalier added.

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