House Economic Development Panel Approves Big River Steel Bill

by Roby Brock ( 13 views 

A day after the State Senate approved the $1.1 billion Big River Steel Mill superproject, a House panel also approved a measure to push the deal forward.

SB 820, the enabling legislation that outlines parameters of the major economic project, passed the House Agriculture and Economic Development Committee on a voice vote.  There were two dissenting voice votes.

The billion-dollar superproject would locate in Osecola, Arkansas (Mississippi County) on the banks of the Mississippi River. The deal is expected to create 525 jobs at the mill and more jobs during the construction phase of the project. Supporters contend that supplier jobs could also be added to the region.

Lawmakers are considering a $125 million bond issue to support incentives and loans related to the deal.

As in previous meetings, legislators quizzed economic and business leaders associated with the project including questions involving the size of the investment, profit projections, and concerns about the steel market.

Nucor Steel, which has two major steel mill operations in Mississippi County where Big River will locate, said market conditions in the domestic and world steel industry would not support Big River’s entry into the marketplace.

“Steel is being dumped here (in the U.S.) and that affects price,” said Sam Comella, head of Nucor’s Arkansas operations in explaining that foreign steel operators have impacted the supply side of steel in America.

John Correnti, lead investor for Big River Steel, paraphrased former Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers in countering Nucor’s arguments.

“If they say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money. If they say it’s not about the competition it’s about the competition,” Correnti said.

Grant Tennille, director of the Arkansas Economic Development Committee, said he thinks the cluster of Nucor and Big River operations will make the northeast region of Arkansas a hub for steel industry suppliers.

“Part of the reason we’re doing this deal is to attract other businesses to locate around these steel mills. I believe it’s going to happen,” Tennille said.

Witnesses speaking for the bill said they have already talked to a supplier who wants to bring 150 jobs to the region and a flatbed trucking firm that has indicated it would add 30 new hauling trucks and employees to support the operation.