Big River Steel begins production in its melt shop and hot mill

by George Jared ([email protected]) 434 views 

One of the largest industrial development projects in Arkansas history is about to begin production. Big River Steel has produced its first hot roll coil tube, and its melt shop and hot mill are operational, company Chief Strategy Officer Patty Rioux told Talk Business & Politics.

BRS and Zekelman Industries will donate the proceeds from the $100,000 tube to the Wounded Warrior Project and Arkansas Northeastern College.

“We are thrilled to be commemorating this milestone alongside Zekelman Industries,” BRS CEO David Stickler said.

The plant, located on a 1,300 acre tract along the Mississippi River, will be fully operational in early 2017. Company officials remain mum as to exactly when the $1.3 billion facility will be completely staffed. BRS has hired at least 260 workers and some of them are already working, Rioux said.

BRS is expected to hire at least 525 workers and the average salary will be $75,000 per year, according to the company. It’s been reported that as many as 10,000 people are expected to apply before the plant is fully operational.

It will be the world’s first Flex Mill, meaning it will merge the traits of an integrated steel mill with those of a mini mill, according to the company. Integrated mills typically produce a broader range of products and can offer higher steel grades and can make products from raw iron ore. Mini mills typically use state-of-the-art technology and produce products using scrap metal.

Zekelman Industries owns Atlas Tube based in Blytheville. The parent company produces 2.5 million tons of pipe and tubing per year at its 15 manufacturing locations in the U.S. and Canada.

“Zekelman Industries has operated in Northeast Arkansas since 2007 and we have seen firsthand the quality of the workforce trained by ANC. My family and I have also had the honor of supporting the Wounded Warrior Project for several years. Big River’s willingness to join us in making these charitable contributions is much appreciated and we join others that operate industrial facilities in Northeast Arkansas in welcoming Big River to the community.”

BRS is projected to produce 1.6 million tons of steel each year. The company will recycle about 2 million tons of steel annually. Most of the company’s products will be sold to the automotive and electrical industries. The plant will be able to direct hot briquette iron into a furnace, which is critical in niche steel products used in both those industries.

It will be the only company in the United States that can produce hot rolled steel 1-inch thick and as wide as 78-inches, according to the company.

Former CEO John Correnti began his pitch to build a steel plant in Mississippi County in 2013. The state issued $125 million in general obligation bonds, and work on the plant began in 2014. Correnti died in August 2015 at the age of 68. BRS’s completion is a “bittersweet time” for the company following the loss of its visionary, Rioux said.

ANC has assisted the company in hiring and training its workers, ANC President Dr. James Shemwell told Talk Business & Politics. BRS has spent about $1million with the community college, based in Blytheville, he said. ANC helped vet potential employees, and it has provided work training during the last 18 months, he said.

“I look forward to continuing to work with Big River Steel and Zekelman Industries in developing training and education course work so that graduates of ANC are fully prepared to meet the demands of advanced manufacturing,” Shemwell said.