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Owner saved smelter from closure once before

When Portland attorney Brett Wilcox bought the former Martin Marietta aluminum smelter in The Dalles in 1985, the 28-year-old plant had been closed for two years.

The next year, it was back in operation with a new name: Northwest Aluminum Co.

'I think when we started up, next to getting married and having kids, it was the most magical time,' Wilcox said in a recent interview.

Before he got hands-on experience in the aluminum industry, Wilcox, now in his late 40s, was executive director of Direct Services Industries Inc., a trade association representing aluminum smelters and energy-intensive firms that bought their power directly from the Bonneville Power Administration.

In 1996, Wilcox acquired Goldendale Aluminum Co., a larger, newer smelter on the Columbia River southeast of Goldendale, Wash.

At full operation, the two smelters together were the mid-Columbia area's largest employer, with a $48 million payroll and about 1,200 employees.

Both smelters now are under the corporate umbrella of Golden Northwest Aluminum Inc. A new casting facility opened at The Dalles smelter in 1991 and continues to operate; it employs about 120 people and makes specialty alloys for industrial uses.

'On balance it's still been an incredible experience, and it's a long way from being over,' Wilcox said.

Wilcox holds an undergraduate degree from Princeton University and a law degree from Stanford University. And he has won a string of awards and accolades, including the Glenn Jackson Leadership Award, the Bonneville Power Administrator's award for exceptional public service and the Oregon Governor's Award for Statewide Economic Contribution.

He also is chairman of the Oregon Economic and Community Development Commission and vice chairman of the Oregon Progress Board.

Ñ Jeanie Senior