General Cable Could Shut Down Before Clean Line Construction Begins


General Cable factory in Malvern.
General Cable factory in Malvern.
General Cable of Malvern announced an agreement in 2011 to produce high-voltage transmission lines for the Clean Line project. The deal is worth at least $130 million and will generate 135 direct jobs, according to a University of Arkansas study.
General Cable of Malvern announced an agreement in 2011 to produce high-voltage transmission lines for the Clean Line project. The deal is worth at least $130 million and will generate 135 direct jobs, according to a University of Arkansas study.

The Plains & Eastern Clean Line, the $2.5 billion power transmission project planned across the state, has long promoted its intent to buy millions of dollars' worth of components from manufacturing operations in Arkansas.

Clean Line Partners of Houston, planners of the 720-mile high line for carrying up to 4,000 megawatts of Oklahoma-generated wind electricity to a site near Memphis, has had a deal since 2011 to buy conductor cable, for example, from General Cable Corp.'s factory in Malvern.

The twist is that the plant is scheduled to shut down next year, possibly before construction begins on the controversial line, which would cross 12 Arkansas counties. The preferred supplier agreement called for General Cable to provide $135 million worth of conductor wire, a deal that Clean Line said would yield 135 direct jobs in Malvern.

But Charlie Schicht, General Cable's external communications manager, said in an email to Arkansas Business that the company "will have idled approximately half the operation in Malvern" by the end of this year. The plant is scheduled to close in mid-2107, he said, but "there is the chance that additional business could extend this timeline."

Jason Walker, who worked at the plant for 16 years, wrote in an email that employees were told of the closing plans a year ago and advised that the plant's operations would move to Marshall, Texas, in the second quarter of 2017. "I found another job after they told us of the closing," he wrote, "but I stay in touch with people from out there and they were told a few weeks ago" that the timing looked likely for April.

Lance Howell, executive director of the Malvern/Hot Spring County Chamber of Commerce, said that General Cable, a publicly traded company based in Kentucky, employs "somewhere in the neighborhood of 100" workers in Malvern.

Clean Line Executive Vice President Mario Hurtado emphasized that the power line planners still hope to get Malvern-made cable.

"We've worked with General Cable over the last five years to source conductor from its Malvern facility," Hurtado said. "General Cable announced at the end of 2015 that this facility was slated for closure. Since that time, Clean Line has been exploring options to continue to source the conductor from General Cable's facility in Malvern."

The Clean Line, which some landowners are fighting in federal court, could begin construction in the second half of next year, the company said in announcing that GE Energy Connections will supply three high-voltage direct-current converter stations for the project.

Clean Line also has a deal with Sediver, a French-based manufacturer, to supply $60 million worth of glass insulators produced at a factory now nearing completion in West Memphis.