Arkansas legislators form steel caucus

by The City Wire staff ( 6 views 

About 30 Arkansas lawmakers announced Thursday (Feb. 7) the formation of the Legislative Steel Caucus, a coalition of government and business leaders hoping to duplicate what the natural gas industry did during the Fayetteville Shale’s early years.

The group was announced a week after state officials revealed the $1.1 billion Big River Steel Mill project near Osceola (Mississippi County). That John Correnti-led project is expected to initially employ 525 workers with average salaries in the $75,000 range.

Sen. David Burnett, D-Osceola, and Rep. Monte Hodges, D-Blytheville, were announced as co-chairs of the group, which included lawmakers from Fort Smith, McGehee, Hope and Little Rock.

“The whole objective of this caucus is to get the word out to let constituents across the state know what this steel mill is going to do and how its going to affect our state,” Hodges said in a Talk Business Arkansas interview.

Besides the legislators, an effort is being made to recruit businesses that would benefit from the project and the advancement of the steel industry in Arkansas.

Steve Williams, CEO of Maverick Transportation, was at today’s caucus formation. He said his Little Rock-based company, which hauls steel for other suppliers, would likely add 240 Arkansas jobs to serve the new Big River Steel Mill once it is in business. He’ll also have a chance to service the project during the expected 18-month construction phase.

“My involvement in this is not only self-serving, but I think this type of investment and this type of facility is consistent with the type of industry we need to be promoting in Arkansas,” said Williams.

Williams said that the trucking jobs he expected to add would pay in the $50,000-$60,000 range.

Maverick is also a leading hauler for the Gerdau facility (formerly MacSteel) in Fort Smith. Based in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Gerdau is one of the world’s largest suppliers of special steel bars for the automotive industry and the leading producer of long steel in the Americas. The company’s North American special steel division is based in Jackson, Mich., and in addition to Fort Smith, the company has steel manufacturing plants in Jackson and Monroe, Mich.

Nucor Steel, which has two major facilities in Mississippi County near where the Big River Steel project will locate, is not currently participating in the caucus.

Background information began circulating at the capitol today where Nucor presumably is claiming that the Big River project’s first phase will overlap with its current business model by as much as 100% – not the 20% overlap that state economic officials suggested in reports earlier in the week.

Hodges said he has reached out to Nucor and expects to continue a dialogue regarding concerns raised by the company about the potential competition.

“Nucor saved my community,” said Hodges. “So I’m a supporter of Nucor.”

He admitted that the company does have issues with the state’s involvement in the Big River Steel Mill project. When asked if their issues are legitimate, Hodges added, “I really can’t comment on that.”

Link here for a video interview with Rep. Hodges.