Christy Newman recently was named community relations manager with Alcoa, Inc., Tennessee Operations.
While any career move is exciting, for Newman, the daughter of an Alcoa employee, it represented a major career milestone. To understand why, Newman shared a memory from her college days.
“The history of why I wanted that job was this. While at (the University of Tennessee), one of our journalism class assignments was to interview someone in a field that you would like to have a job in,” she said. “I interviewed Elton Jones. He was the public relations person for Alcoa. Every since then, it had been a goal of mine to work for the Aluminum Company.”
When Melissa Copelan announced she was leaving the company to work in the Copelan’s own business, 180 Fitness in Knoxville, Newman said she thought the timing might be right.
“A lot of people were praying that if this was the right thing, it would happen.”
In addition to the sentimental desire for the job, there were other practical reasons for wanting to work in Blount County again. She worked in Knoxville for more than 12 years and, with gas as expensive as it is, working close to home was a good move, she said.
Newman grew in Blount County, graduated from William Blount High School and earned a degree in public relations, communications and journalism from UT and then worked at The Daily Times as a features writer.
Her next move was to Peninsula Hospital where she worked in public relations for Covenant System. “I went there and worked three to four years and did a year’s stint with Akins and Crisp Public Strategies,” she said. “Then I got recruited back to Covenant and worked at Cariten as director of marketing.”
When she saw Copelan was leaving Alcoa, Inc., Newman applied for the position, went through the interview process and eventually was offered the job. She started on May 19 and has been busy meeting people inside the company and learning about what goes on at the plant.
“It’s important I understand the business so I can better communicate that to the public. It’s a complex business. Even though they make one product, rolled can sheet, there are a lot of steps that happen in between the raw process and the ‘out the door’ can sheet. Understanding the process makes it easier to talk about it,” she said.
Newman said she’s also been meeting with community stakeholders such as officials with Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County.
“I’ve also met with our community advisory board. Alcoa has a community advisory board of 14 individuals from Knoxville and Blount County who help the local operations decide how to best use Alcoa Foundation funds,” she said.
Each year the company allots funds to give out in the form of grants. The 14 people on the advisory board looks at proposals, visit organizations and then makes recommendations to Alcoa Foundation in New York. The money is given back to the community, she said.
The advisory board usually has two objectives in charitable giving. “We focus on the environment and work force development,” she said. “Those are primarily what we look at.”
Newman said the company uses community assessments to survey what important issues are affecting the community, and the company and that residents and stakeholders consistently point to concerns about sustaining the environment and maintaining workforce development. “Those are huge goals,” she said.
Newman said Alcoa, Inc., like other companies in the region, is concerned about workforce development. This is a concern at Alcoa because the company has a workforce population that is nearing retirement age. One of the company’s goals is to grow what the Human Resources department refers to as “bench strength” -- professionals ready to take over as the current workforce retires, she said.
“When you see us in the community, it will be dedicated to workforce development and the environment. Those are issues we want to make a positive impact on,” she said.
Newman said she’s still learning what her goals are for her position at Alcoa. “With this position of community relations manager, the ultimate goal is to provide consistent communication with our stakeholders,” she said. “That sounds pat and trite, but it’s making sure the community is aware of what’s going on that might impact Alcoa as an industry and forming partnerships with community that will ensure mutual growth of business and the community.”
For folks who grew up in Blount County, Alcoa has always been a big part of the community, Newman said. “I want to help keep a good image of the company in the community,” she said.
The importance of Alcoa to the culture of the county isn’t lost on Newman. She knows first hand what it has meant on a family level.
“My dad works at Alcoa. That was our bread and butter. If it hadn’t been for dad having a good job at Alcoa, who knows what would have happened? It would have been a lot harder to go to school and college,” she said.
An event Newman is looking forward to is the company’s 100th anniversary in 2010. Just as residents want to remember the history of the company, they also care about its future.
“They want to know it’s going to be here. It’s viable and continues to provide good jobs. That’s what I want to get out about this company,” she said.
Newman said Alcoa, Inc., Tennessee Operations has a significant history in Blount County. “A lot of people in this community made it what it is. Alcoa helped shape the community, but it was the people of the community who made Alcoa,” she said.