When Alcoa halted work at its Rockdale plant and laid off about 900 workers in 2008, the aluminum manufacturer said the plant could someday return to its normal production level.

Most workers and nearby residents doubted that would happen. Last week, their doubts were confirmed.

The largest aluminum producer in the United States announced on Friday that it will permanently shut down two of the six potlines in Rockdale. The move was designed to reduce the company's smeltering capacity after aluminum prices dropped by more than a quarter in 2011.

"These are difficult but necessary steps to improve Alcoa's competitiveness, preserve and grow shareholder value and protect jobs in the rest of the Alcoa system," said Alcoa Chairman and CEO Klaus Kleinfeld in a press release.

The decision comes as Rockdale struggles to recover from the loss of its main economic driver. Milam County's unemployment rate rose from a low of 3.9 percent in 2008 to a peak of 11.6 in 2009. Since then, the rate has hovered around 10 percent, though preliminary numbers for November estimated the rate at 8.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But the recent decrease in unemployment may have more to do with people moving away than finding new jobs. About 1,700 jobs have been lost in Milam County since 2008, and the workforce has decreased by 1,320, or 15 percent.

By comparison, Texas' unemployment rate has increased from a low of 4.4 percent in 2008 to 8.1 in November, but its workforce increased by more than 10 percent and the total number of jobs in the state has increased by more than 300,000.

In addition to closing the potlines in Rockdale, Alcoa also closed its smelter in Alcoa, Tenn. The action reduced the company's smelting capacity by about seven percent.

Alcoa's press release said the company would work with communities affected by the closures to redevelop the closed facilities and help laid-off employees find work. It gave no specific details on how it plans to do that.

"We recognize our responsibility to the people and communities of the affected facilities," Kleinfeld said.

Alcoa opened its Rockdale plant in 1952. At its peak, it produced about 267,000 metric tons of aluminum products a year.

Since it shut down, the city has struggled to find a company or project to take its place. In 2010, Florida-based developers Velocita Holdings Inc. showed interest in buying the site to build a green research community that would create 5,000 jobs. The sale fell through in 2011.

Energy company Luminant has hired many former Alcoa workers, though often on a temporary basis.

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