A good bit of Appalachia, especially Eastern Kentucky, is buzzing with the news that the $1.7 billion Braidy Industries aluminum mill has now secured partial project funding. This funding announcement dramatically shifts the building of the mill to a state of highly probable, as opposed to possible.
Braidy securing this funding was a major achievement that had to be accomplished before full-bore construction begins. With the funding announcement and construction commencing, most everyone has buy-in that the plant is now a reality and is actually going to be built and succeed.
Now, I am not a baseball fan, but Braidy succeeding at obtaining this extremely important funding piece of their project gives me cause to think of something that Babe Ruth did in the 1932 World Series. Babe walked up to home plate, pointed his bat toward the center field bleachers, and on the next pitch he hit a home run into the same area of bleachers that he had just pointed to with his bat. I am told by sports enthusiasts that hitting a major league fastball is the most difficult feat to accomplish in any professional sport. I would say that hitting a major league fast ball is probably as hard in comparison as obtaining major funding support for a $1.7 billion aluminum mill in poverty-stricken Appalachia.
On April 26, 2017, Craig Bouchard, Braidy CEO, announced he would be building a state-of-the-art aluminum mill in Ashland. Since that time, nearly two years ago, I have not seen Bouchard take his focus off of the center field bleachers.
The journey to get to this very positive, celebratory point in the project has certainly not been without challenges.
One difficult challenge for Bouchard, the Braidy Team, and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin since the journey began has been having to navigate the turbulent waters caused by project skeptics and critics. At first I was angered by these naysayers and their negative comments, but that is no longer the case. I do not believe these skeptics were intentionally trying to continue the perpetuation of poverty in Appalachia by sabotaging the efforts of the governor and the Braidy team. I believe these project critics, who ranged from Louisville newspaper reporters to pillars of the Ashland community, were simply trying to achieve their own personal agendas (political or other) by taking the “safe bet” that the project would not happen. These critics were not intentionally trying to continue the oppression of the Appalachian people, but that is exactly what they were doing. If you look at its history, Appalachia has had about 40 years of joblessness, broken promises and economic digression. Had the project failed, then these critics might have been able to boast “I told you so” or might have been labeled “brilliant journalist” or “prophetic local leader.” That is not what has happened.
I would like to thank Bouchard, the entire Braidy Team and Bevin for their grit, resolve and perseverance that, in spite of the critics and naysayers, has gotten the project to a position of high probability of happening. Appalachia and all of Kentucky are lucky that they were willing to take on this historically pivotal project.
I would like to end with a statement President Theodore Roosevelt made on April 23, 1910, titled “The Man in the Arena”:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
ROBERT SLAGEL is president, chief executive officer and owner of Portable Solutions.