Describing it as a game changer for both the state's economy and the future of steel, officials cut the ribbon on a $1.3 billion "flex mill" in Osceola Wednesday. The mill has been online for almost a year, though January was the facility's first at full capacity. Officials say it’s already given Arkansas a place as a leader in the worldwide steel industry.
According to Big River Steel CEO David Stickler, the mill employs some 450 people who earn an average of $75,000 per year (that number may rise to $90,000). Supporters of Big River Steel said those employees can afford houses, cars, goods and services, which bolster the rural economy and create spin-off businesses that serve Big River employees and their families.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said he supported the Big River Steel project when he was a candidate for the office, said the flex mill is not just good for northeast Arkansas but for the entire state. A flex mill combines an integrated mill with a steel mini-mill.
“What you have given to us in return is bragging rights. I’m able to go across the globe and talk about the steel industry in Arkansas,” said Hutchinson.
In 2013, the Arkansas legislature approved Amendment 82, which included a multi-million dollar package of incentives and created the biggest economic development project in state history. The project survived months of opposition and lawsuits from competitors such as neighboring steel manufacturer Nucor.
Wednesday’s press conference and media tour also included a remembrance video for John Correnti, the former Big River Steel CEO who unexpectedly died in August 2015 of natural causes while on a business trip to Chicago. The front row of the event was reserved for the Correnti family, which included his 99-year-old mother. The project would not have been possible without Correnti’s vision of the future of steel, his family was told.
This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media, a statewide journalism collaboration among public media organizations. Arkansas Public Media reporting is funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK and from members of the public. You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at arkansaspublicmedia.org. Arkansas Public Media is Natural State News with Context.