St. Marys facility newest addition to GrafTech International

By acquiring C/G Electrodes LLC and Seadrift Coke L.P., GrafTech International Holdings Inc. has become the largest producer of graphite electrodes in the world, according to Craig Shular, GrafTech Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. Shular and Norman Struble, the Chief Operating Officer at GrafTech's St. Marys facility [formerly C/G], addressed employees at the St. Marys facility on Tuesday about what to expect following the merger on Dec. 1. Shular and Struble also held a special presentation later that afternoon for the Elk County Commissioners, St. Marys City Manager Dave Greene, and members of the St. Marys City Council. During that presentation, Struble explained how it seemed like a long time had passed between the announcement of the potential merger at the end of April and the approval of the merger last week. "While seven months may not seem that long, seven months was a long time here in St. Marys. I talk to the team members every week and talk to them about key business issues, and I can tell you that for the last seven months we talked about that merger and not really about key business issues," Struble said. He added that the past seven months were also filled with high levels of anxiety for the employees in St. Marys as they waited to hear what would happen to their jobs, wages and health insurance. "The high anxiety was compounded by the fact that because the Department of Justice was investigating this transaction, we weren't allowed to communicate much, so even if I did know something I had 158 other employees I wasn't allowed to tell anything to," Struble said. "That's really not the way we work here in St. Marys at [what was previously the] C/G plant. We've established a very strong business on extreme open communications and extreme transparency."Struble noted that during his 25 years of employment at the St. Marys facility, he has seen the entire facility sold, pieces of the company sold off, and the organization enter into bankruptcy. "I can honestly say that this merger is totally different. Why it is totally different is because it's a merger of two companies that have been in business for over a hundred years and the balance sheets of our companies, not to brag, but I think are healthier than any other business in the world," Struble said. Struble also remarked that he believed the people will make the biggest difference in the merger between C/G and GrafTech. "The merger forms the world's largest graphite company, but the two teams combined are going to form the world's finest graphite company," Struble said.The St. Marys facility is one of two locations owned by GrafTech that produces graphite electrodes. The other facility is in Monterrey, Mexico. "These are the only places today where we make electrodes in North America," Shular said. "If I put on top of [a map of facilities owned by GrafTech] where all the steel companies are, if I drew a 500-mile radius around St. Marys, you would find probably 70 to 80 percent of the steel producers are in that circle. If I draw it around Monterrey, there's probably another 20 to 30 percent there."Shular explained that both facilities are ideally located not only in relation to steel producers, but also with regard to their proximity to other locations owned by GrafTech. He noted that the company's key producer of needle coke is located in Seadrift, Texas, in between the St. Marys and Monterrey facilities. Shular also remarked that a significant amount of capital will be invested in both the Seadrift and St. Marys facilities over the next 12 to 18 months in a number of areas, including quality, productivity and safety. "The St. Marys team will determine how that is spent and in what order," Shular said. "Nobody knows better than the men and women who work and run the site."Perhaps most importantly, Shular stressed that no jobs in St. Marys, Seadrift, or at any of the company's other facilities will be lost due to the merger. Shular also explained that the St. Marys facility will continue to manufacture electrodes, though some strategies utilized by GrafTech's other facilities may be implemented in order to make the process more efficient. The electrodes are used in electric arc furnaces to melt scrap steel. For more on this story, see the Dec. 8th edition of The Daily Press.