Alcoa Davenport Works celebrated the launch of a major expansion Friday that will drive more growth in the automotive industry for the aluminum maker and create more jobs for the Quad-City economy.

Company executives were joined by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and more than 75 other local and state officials for the ceremonial groundbreaking for a project first announced in September. The $300 million expansion will bring a new patented process to the Riverdale plant that will help Alcoa capture more of the growing automotive market.

As he stood next to a cavernous hole spanning the nearly

700-foot-long building, Branstad told a chuckling crowd “it looks like we’re a little behind since the ground has already been broken.”

Hailing it as “a great day for Scott County and surrounding communities,” he said “we are proud to have Alcoa filling the world’s needs right here in Iowa. This expansion is a testament to the tremendous Iowa work ethic, and Alcoa’s recognition of what this great area has to offer.”

Davenport Works was selected as the site for the expansion after the project received an incentive package from the Iowa Department of Economic Development. The expansion will create an additional 150 full-time Alcoa jobs as well as 150 temporary construction jobs.

Branstad said the jobs are an example of the type of high-tech, high-paying jobs the state wants to bring to Iowa. His administration’s goal is to create 200,000 new jobs over the next five years and raise Iowa families’ incomes by 25 percent.

“We’ve got to attract really good jobs to Iowa,” he said, pointing to investments by several other Iowa companies — including John Deere and Cargill — that are adding to the employment base. “I’m encouraged and I think we’re making progress, but it’s never as fast as you’d like.”

Mark Vrablec, Alcoa’s president of Aerospace, Transportation and Industrial & Specialty Products for the company’s Global Rolled Products, said it was “a great day” for Alcoans, the Quad-Cities, the state and “a great day for the automotive industry and anyone who drives a car.”

Alcoa is making the major investment at a time when the car companies are turning more to the lighter-weight aluminum in their production processes.

He said that in the past, auto manufacturers would simply “replace a steel part with an aluminum part.”

“While that was a move in the right direction, what we are seeing now is an effort to really design vehicles with aluminum and take full advantage of the strength and weight benefits our material provides,” Vrablec added. “We see huge potential for our products in the automotive sector.”

When the expansion, which is expected to be completed by late 2013, the automotive industry will use aluminum materials from bumper to bumper. The materials will include the new Alcoa 951 technology, a patented chemical pre-treatment process that will improve adhesive bonding for vehicle assemblies.

According to Vrablec, the auto industry has indicated it plans to grow its aluminum use from an average of 343 pounds a car today to 550 pounds by 2025. “Multiply that over the number of cars (produced) and it adds up quickly,” he said.

Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher Jr., who was among several local mayors and city officials on hand for the ceremony, described the hundreds of new jobs are “a big win for the entire community.”

“I think it means that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we’re moving out of the economic doldrums,” he said, adding that such an investment means “Alcoa is going to stay right here. It’s encouraging because these are jobs in manufacturing and in cutting-edge technology.”

After the expansion is complete, the plant will have more than 130 acres under roof and will generate nearly $5 million a day into the local economy, according to study by the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce.

Tara Barney, the chamber’s chief executive officer, said Alcoa’s move to expand its reach into the automotive sector will help balance the slow times in its other markets. “This is an industry that tends to be counter-cyclical with the industry Alcoa has been in here — aerospace. They make a lot of parts for airplanes and to have a line that is focused on the automotive market is a nice balance.”

She added that Alcoa’s focus on creating new, lightweight materials as well as the community’s research in titanium could position the Quad-Cities as a leader in metal research.

“This is the best example of the kind of jobs we all seek,” Barney said. “They are great manufacturing jobs. They all have the likelihood of being long-lived and they build on the investment Alcoa has been making here for many years.”

Skip McGill, the president of United Steelworkers Local 105, which represents Alcoa’s production employees, said the expansion also is good news for the future. “When you add this line, that metal has to go through the rest of the plant — it has to go through the ingot and hot line before it even gets here. That means we’re going to have to find more capacity upstream than we’re used to getting.”