Columbia Aluminum rose from cold ashes of a shut smelter
Lunching on an apple and a Dr. Pepper, the skinny, boyish 37-year-old bears little resemblance to a captain of industry.
And he readily confesses, "I didn't ever pretend to know how to make aluminum."
Nonetheless, Ken Peterson Jr. is chief executive and principal owner of a prosperous and growing aluminum empire.
His Columbia Aluminum Corp., barely 3 years old, now employs 1,235 people in four states. It grossed $290 million last year, up from $150 million in 1988.
Under Peterson's guidance, the Pacific Northwest's most modern aluminum smelter - shuttered by its former owner in 1987 as uneconomical - has become something of a cash cow.
He and his employees shared $7.5 million in distributed profits last year, Peterson says proudly. Dun & Bradstreet reports that the smelter's total profit for the year exceeded $32 million, a figure Peterson won't confirm.
The Goldendale smelter, which sprawls …