A BUST Newport steel factory reopened under a new banner this week, bringing 120 jobs back to the city.
The Saudi Arabian-owned AIC Steel Ltd purchased the former Rowecord site, which folded last April with debts of £24 million, after winning all its machinery at auction.
At the time 430 jobs were lost, described by politicians as “a body blow” for Newport, and creditors across Gwent were owed hundreds of thousands of pounds as Rowecord Engineering went into administration.
There was speculation that, as the then-unnamed Saudi firm had purchased all of Rowecord's machinery at the site, they could take over.
Now the site next to the Transporter Bridge is "ready to go" back into production, explained CEO Michael Treacy, a civil engineer who has been in post for four weeks.
But they will not be looking for a return by the end of this year or even next year, he said, as the company has “great plans” to build up business.
“We are effectively starting again,” he said of production at the site, which is getting a £10 million investment from the company over three years and is expected to put out 20,000 tons of structural steelwork annually.
“This is our first European base so it is quite a big thing to make a commitment to come here. We have a three-year plan [and] further plans because we’ve got the space here.
"At this stage our plans are that we need 120 people to do the business we are going to do.”
The structural steel fabricator will be working for major companies in the UK and will be taking applications from former Rowecord employees, at least eight of whom are already employed by AIC.
“There’s no barrier to anybody that worked here before,” said Mr Treacy, describing the company’s ethos as ‘collegiate’ and ‘egalitarian’.
“We want to grow, we’re keen to work with local companies and we are targeting work overseas as well. It is not the plan for people to come over from Saudi Arabia, this is a completely separate UK-based company, although we can use expertise from overseas.
"We are working on a couple of projects at the moment and reconfiguring the factory to our layout," he said.
"This is a family company and we have very long-term plans here, they are putting in a lot of money here. It is not just to see how it goes for a few weeks.
“We want to be a very large business that is of significance UK-wide.”
In recent months Newport has seen 650 jobs come under threat at Rogerstone bakery Avana, and 120 posts threatened at the Tata-owned Orb Electrical Steels.
MP for Newport West Paul Flynn hailed the news as a possible “turning point” in the fortunes of the city while Edwina Hart AM, minister for business who toured the facility yesterday, described it as “a ray of light”.
Paul Flynn said: “Blue collar jobs are part of Newport’s DNA but this is a sector where we have been haemorrhaging jobs. This really is very promising news. This is a big international company who don’t exist in the UK and they have deliberately chosen Newport because of the skills that are here, and because of a long history of heavy industry. I am very optimistic this could be a turning point.”
“This is wonderful news and a good day for Wales,” said Edwina Hart AM. “People were absolutely devastated by the closure of Rowecord and this is a ray of light. Newport is definitely on the up, it’s really a very fast-growing city."
When asked how much involvement the Welsh Government had in encouraging AIC to come to Newport, Edwina Hart said: “AIC made the decision themselves when they looked at sites across the UK. We’ve been asking how much help and assistance they might need in the future such as in skills development and research and development, and they will be allocated someone to work with them.”
From Olympic pool contract to bankruptcy
KNOWN for building the roof of the Olympic Aquatic centre for the 2012 London Olympics, the long-established Rowecord Engineering plant near Newport's Transporter Bridge also built steelwork for Cardiff City FC's stadium, and designed and built Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli.
But fewer orders coming in and a dire financial climate meant the firm collapsed with debts of £24 million last year, making 430 people redundant. Although Rowecord Engineering Ltd went into administration, parent firm Rowecord Holdings did not.
Managing director of the family-run business, Andrew Hoppe insisted last April that they had "exhausted every option to sustain the business for the future".
A creditors’ report into Rowecord drawn up by administrators Grant Thornton showed that one Pontypool firm, which deals with industrial roofing, was owed more than £700,000.
Some Rowecord staff were taken on by Chepstow-based manufacturing firm Mabey Bridge, when it launched a new business Mabey Structures led by ex-sales and proposals director of Rowecord Engineering, Jason Churcher, supported by ex-Rowecord technical director Paul Benwell, as well as engineers, estimators and technical staff also from Rowecord.