The $87 million Alutech Research and Development Facility in Wallerfield is being hailed as one of Government’s major initiatives in its diversification thrust.
But the facility was also conceptualised with a specific purpose in mind – to promote economic prosperity in the eastern communities of TT, which has traditionally been neglected at the expense of other regions.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley indicated this in his feature address at the launch of the project at the Tamana In-Tech Park on October 3.
Rowley said an estimated 4,000 jobs will be created for the people of the region when the park is up and running within the next 18 months.
Its catchment embraces residents in three regional territories: Sangre Grande, Arima and Tunapuna/Piarco.
“That is not to be looked at lightly because if you are looking at the geography of Trinidad and Tobago and you look at the population distribution, or more, look at the areas of economic activity, what you will see is that the bulk of the occupancy on our island, Trinidad, in particular, is that the western side of our island, facing the Gulf of Paria, is where all of the economic development is focussed,” he told an audience.
“So, in central, west and north west, we have put in the infrastructure. We got the businesses going there. But, a large part of our legacy, inheritance, which is anything east of Arima, all the way down to Moruga, that area is underutilised and underperforming.”
He added: “And, it will remain so unless there are deliberate strategies to bring those areas into the national economy so that people who live out there could have the opportunities that those who live in central and west have. And also you can bring to them, the opportunity to grow economically, socially and financially.”
Rowley said statistics have shown that the people of Sangre Grande and surrounding communities in the north east are among the poorest in the country.
“And it is not because they were born so. It is because the opportunities of infrastructure are not there for them.”
He continued: “What this Government is embarking on is a rectification of that situation. So, you will see a lot of the development that we are looking at is not in St James, that is done already, is not on the foreshore by the stadium. That is done already.”
The PM said part of that development is already in progress through the extension of the Churchill Roosevelt Highway to parts of east Trinidad “because that is what is required to bring that part of the country and those people into the national economy.”
Riviere: TT can be an aluminium hub
Alfredo Riviere, president and CEO of Venezuelan company, Sural, which is overseeing the mega project, said Alutech is projected to facilitate export earnings of more than $1.2 billion over the next two decades.
He said Alutech had the potential to make TT the manufacturing hub for aluminium in the region.
“Alutech is the beginning of our plans to make Trinidad and Tobago a manufacturing hub for aluminium transformation, helping the country diversify away from energy-related industries,” he said.
Riviere said TT has reason to be “happy and optimistic about the future.”
“We have succeeded in opening a state-of-the-art facility that will produce unique products for the automotive industry, starting with aluminium wheels.”
Riviere said the aluminium industry is the highest growing industry in the world with an estimated rate at six per cent per annum projected for the next ten years.
Saying transportation is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world, Riviere said TT, given its inherent attributes, is well-positioned to capitalise on this trend.
He said: “Trinidad and Tobago offers advantages for the establishment of industries, the stability of the economy and political system, the strategic geographical location, the availability of affordable energy and especially the extraordinary quality of its people.”
The Alutech plant will occupy a 65,000 sq ft space on 2.7 hectares of land at the Tamana In-Tech Park.
Riviere said at full production, TT will be able to manufacture and export half a million wheels per year.
He said in the first instance, the plant would target exports to South and Central American markets such as Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, the US and Canada by producing 175 million wheels per year.
High praise for Julien
It was energy expert Prof Kenneth Julien who first noted TT’s potential to delve into the aluminium business on a global scale.
Discussions with Julien, Riviere said, began in 2000 and five years later, he said a joint venture agreement was signed for Alutech.
“That agreement is not anymore a declaration of ideas. It is a reality that has taken 13 years for this dream to come true.”
Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon acknowledged Julien’s role in the development of the project.
She recalled when construction began under the then Patrick Manning-led PNM government in 2009, it was envisaged to be the catalyst for the development of new technology with the potential to revolutionise downstream aluminium production, thereby enhancing TT’s competitiveness in the industry.
However, she lamented the project was thwarted by the former People’s Partnership government when it assumed office in September 2010.
She told the audience: “As a consequence, the customised building remained unfinished and the opportunities for foreign investment and export business were lost and a substantial already secured valuable manufacturing equipment, left idle.”
Gopee-Scoon added: “It is the taxpayer who bore the cost of works completed as well as termination costs to the then contractor, Carillion Ltd.”
The minister said in mid-2016, the standing committee on energy, under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, completed an extensive review of the downstream aluminium project and the Cabinet gave the green light to the project.
Gopee-Scoon said in January, eTecK engaged the services of KS&P Ltd, a local civil and structural engineering firm to review the construction drawings and specifications of the facility to ensure the designs met Alutech Ltd’s requirements and conduct analyses of existing structural and services design for compliance with new codes.
Gopee-Scoon said in May 2017, Cabinet agreed that eTecK would complete the building structure to locate Alutech.
Further, she said the project fits into Government’s robust development agenda, in particular, Theme 1V-Building Globally Competitive Business – with its goal of providing high value products and services that can compete in export markets.
Gopee-Scoon said the SCG Caribbean Group Ltd, a subsidiary of the Shanghai Construction Group, has been awarded the contract to construct the Alutech facility.
She said the contractor will utilise 60 per cent local labour, including local sub-contractors to bring benefits to the people of Wallerfield and environs from the start of construction.
On September 18, Gopee-Scoon had signalled the moves to get going on the Alutech project during a press conference hosted by Minister of Sport Shamfa Cudjoe and attended by officials of the TT Automobile Sports Association (TTASA), including president Fyzool Madan and vice-president Jameer Ali, at the J Hamilton Maurice Room, at Parliament, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain. At the time, discussion was on the extension of use of lands adjacent to the Alutech site for motor sport for three months until further discussions on allocation of land for the sport.
In her remarks, Gopee-Scoon highlighted the production of aluminium wheels the automotive industry.
“The public will recognise that Government had agreed to the resumption of activity regarding the construction of the Alutech Research and Development Facility wherein the housing of our manufacturing plant for the production of alloy wheel rims from aluminium will be resumed. This activity begins on October 1 and is likely to last one year.”
A survey is currently being done to guide on a 30-metre buffer to the Alutech facility and the possible extension of lands to accommodate drag and circuit racing.