While there are many central figures in the announcement that Big River Steel, LLC will build a $1.1 billion steel mill near Osceola (Mississippi Co.), one figure looms large.

John D. Correnti is a steel man’s steel man.

Correnti is the driving piston in the Big River Steel organization and he has nearly 40 years of operations, management and board experience in the steel industry.

His steel career began in 1969 with U.S. Steel where he served in construction management activities until 1980. He’s also done stints at the helm of SeverCorr, SteelCorr and Birmingham Steel.

Most interestingly, he was the President of Nucor Corp. from 1991 to 1999 and CEO from 1996 to 1999. Nucor has major steel operations at its facilities near Blytheville (also in Mississippi County).

According to public records, Correnti actually still has a Main Street residence in Blytheville, a homestead he kept from his time in the region with Nucor years ago.

And Correnti counts native son Bill Clinton as a friend. Clinton helped recruit Nucor to Arkansas in the 1990′s and Correnti credits the former Arkansas Governor with the company’s location there.

From a 1992 U.S. News and World Report article:

John Correnti, president of Nucor, says that before his company built two steel mills in Arkansas, it was offered equally generous incentives from a number of states.

The difference, says Correnti, was Bill Clinton’s speed. As soon as Nucor expressed an interest in building a mill on the Mississippi River in 1986, says Correnti, Clinton was on a plane to Nucor headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., where he “told us what he could do, what he couldn’t do, and then he went and got it done.”

The second mill, which started rolling steel just last month, brings Nucor’s investment in Arkansas to nearly $1 billion. Clinton’s attention to Nucor has also earned him a vote. “And I’ll tell you one thing,” says Correnti, “he’ll be the first Democrat I’ve ever voted for.”

Correnti said Clinton made a call on behalf of Arkansas on this latest project too.

“I’m here politicking and lobbying for Arkansas,” Clinton told Correnti, who reminded the former President that a decision would come down to the same factors from his Nucor days – workforce, money, and logistics.

“He remembered some of those same issues,” Correnti told reporters today. “He said, ‘Come to Arkansas.’”