April 29, 2012
Arizona Daily Star
As copper prices stay high, the industry's jobs machine keeps humming in Southern Arizona and statewide.
The region's two major mining companies, Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold and Asarco, have more employees on their Arizona payrolls today than they did a year ago. They are looking to hire more workers now than they were a year ago. They also continue to have expansion or potential expansion plans, just as they did a year ago.
Although copper prices are a bit lower today than a year ago - $3.75 a pound compared to $4.05 to $4.30 then - prices remain very high by historical standards. Accordingly, the recent price drop has had no effect on Arizona copper-industry employment, the companies say.
The current job rundown:
• Freeport employs about 7,800 people in Arizona, about 700 more than a year ago. Freeport's current employees include 3,350 at its three Southern Arizona mines: Sierrita (south of Tucson), Morenci and Safford. It operates a copper mine in Miami in Gila County in Central Arizona that employs 1,000 people and one in Bagdad in Yavapai County in west-central Arizona that employs about 850 people. It has about 1,600 other Arizona employees, with about 700 of those working in Southern Arizona.
• Asarco employs 2,401 people in Arizona today, 40 more than a year ago. All work at the company's four Southern Arizona operations: the Mission complex, the Silver Bell mine, the Ray mine and the Hayden smelter, and at Asarco's corporate office in Tucson.
Asarco has about 140 vacancies today, up from 100 a year ago. Freeport has about 570 vacancies, up from nearly 500 a year ago.
Both companies continue to hunt for skilled workers to fill many of the openings, with one or both companies seeking mining engineers, metallurgists, geologists, supervisors, mechanics, electricians, plant operators, truck drivers and environmental engineers.
As for future plans, Asarco's Mexican parent Grupo Mexico announced this year that it will spend $60 million to expand its Mission complex concentrator. Expected to be online in April 2013, the upgraded concentrator will expand its annual production capacity from 66,000 to 77,500 tons. The expansion will add about 20 employees, said Tom Aldrich, an Asarco vice president.
Freeport has no firm expansion plans but it recently obtained an Arizona Department of Environmental Quality permit to build a new concentrator at its Morenci mine. If a feasibility study concludes that the concentrator makes economic sense, that would create another 400 to 600 permanent jobs along with about 400 to 1,400 construction jobs while the concentrator is being built, said Gabe Doak, a Freeport spokesman.
Gradual hiring of new employees for training would start this year and the concentrator could start production by 2014, the company said.
The company also continues to study the feasibility of reopening the Twin Buttes mine southwest of Tucson that has been closed since 1994 when it was owned by another company. Freeport is also assessing the possibility of expanding the Sierrita operation.
Copper's 2010 economic impact
Asarco 2010 Arizona economic impact:
• $198.3 million in wages, salaries and benefits paid employees.
• $38.2 million in property, severance and sales taxes paid to state and local governments.
• $437.9 million in spending on energy, fuel and supplies.
• $58.8 million paid in royalties to the state and allottees, or landowners, on the Tohono O'Odham's San Xavier reservation.
Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold 2010 Arizona economic impact:
• $680 million from operations, including wages paid to employees and business taxes paid to state and local governments.
• $493 million from supply purchases.
• $349 million in indirect effects, from the economic impacts generated when its tax revenues are spent by state and local governments.
• $223 million in tax revenues, both directly from Freeport's operations and salaries and indirectly from tax revenues generated from outside economic activity generated from the mine.
• Overall, the company estimates its Arizona operations had a direct and indirect economic impact worth $2.1 billion in 2010.
Sources: Asarco and Freeport McMoRan statistics
Contact reporter Tony Davis at email@example.com or 806-7746.