Steel company, 350 jobs in the offing for Osceola in old Fruit of the Loom plant

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 503 views 

A Texas-based steel fabricating company has purchased an option to buy a 700,000-square-foot building in Osceola, with 350 jobs waiting in the wings, Osceola Mayor Dickie Kennemore said Thursday (Dec. 24). Challenger International of Houston has worked with city officials on a contract for some time to purchase the building.

Kennemore said company officials recently paid a $20,000 deposit to later purchase the building for $2 million. The building on U.S. 61, which once housed the Fruit of the Loom factory, has been mostly empty for at least a decade. However, Big River Steel, which will open in fall 2016, has used the building as a temporary headquarters and storage facility.

Kennemore said he expects the contract with Challenger International to be closed within the next six months. In the interim, the company will send engineers and architects to the Osceola factory to look at ways to retrofit the building.

According to the company’s website, the Houston based firm provides third-party monitoring of tubular inspections, tool joint inspections and other work. Also, Challenger does refacing, straightening, hard banding of tool joints, internal plastic coating and external rust preventative coating on steel related products.

Kennemore said the company is a “20- to 30-year-old” company that has worked in the field. As for the company starting work, Kennemore said he expects the retrofitting to begin in fall 2016.

The year 2015 has been a busy year for Osceola officials.

Construction at the $1.3 billion Big River Steel project has continued as several other companies have announced plans to build or have built in the past year or so. Big River Steel is expected to create about 500 jobs at the steel mill, with hiring expected to start in Jan. 2016, company officials said earlier this month. Kennemore said at least 450 ancillary jobs have been created during 2015.

Millcraft company SMS announced a $30 million project while Mid-River Terminal, which unloads barges, announced a $40 million investment by building a facility in Osceola.

Mississippi County has faced several ups and down on the economic front for the past 30 years as it still ranks as one of the highest unemployment counties in the state.

Recently, the numbers have improved for the county. According to the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services, the county had a 12.5% unemployment rate in 2010. The number dropped somewhat in 2011, with a 12.1% unemployment rate. In 2012, the county had a 10.9% unemployment rate, while the number went up in 2013 at 11.4%.

Since then, the numbers have dropped. Mississippi County had a 9.4% unemployment rate in 2014, dropping to 7.7% in October, the numbers showed.