BUSINESS ABROAD: Audacity & Measure

Amid the pop of champagne corks and the hiss of sulfurous fire, the world's most highly automated aluminum plant was officially opened last week near Lacq in southwestern France. Nestled at the foot of the Pyrenees on once-sleepy pasture land, the $40 million plant is the showpiece of one of France's most aggressive and fastest-growing companies: the aluminum and chemical firm of Pechiney, Europe's biggest aluminum producer. While the plant increases France's aluminum capacity by one-third, it can be run by only 350 employees.

Pechiney moved in among the cows and centuries-old...

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