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New Big River Steel CEO Gives Promising Sales Report To Lawmakers In Osceola

Big River Steel
Johnathan Reaves

Big River Steel has pre-sold nearly a quarter of the steel it is expected to produce over the next seven years, the company’s CEO told a legislative committee Wednesday.

Dave Stickler spoke to the House and Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development committees during a meeting at Arkansas Northeastern College in Blytheville.

Stickler said the flex-mill, which is expected to open in March 2016, will produce 1.6 million short tons of steel each year. Contracts with companies are typically based on seven-year deals, with five years of operating time, Stickler said.

Stickler also gave legislators an update on the $1.3 billion superproject, which is being built south of Osceola. Right now, there are about 650 construction workers getting the mill off the ground. That number is expected to ramp up in the next several months, with nearly 2,000 construction workers building the mill by the end of the year.

Overall, Stickler said the mill is expected to have a nearly $3 billion impact in the region’s economy with more opportunities on the horizon.

Answering a question from Rep. Stephen Meeks, R-Greenbrier, on possible suppliers, Stickler said several suppliers have either opened or are about to open in the Osceola area, investing nearly $100 million and hiring 250 people.

A supplier, Arkansas Steel Processing, has announced a $35 million investment to create about 50 jobs, while SMS Millcraft recently bought a building in Osceola, Stickler told the committee. SMS is expected to invest about $30 million and hire 70 people.

A barge unloading company, Mid-River Terminal, has made a $40 million investment and has hired 130 people.

Stickler said the company’s founding CEO, John Correnti, helped to lay the groundwork for the mill and the other industries.

Correnti died unexpectedly Aug. 18 at age 68 during a business trip to Chicago.

Stickler said the company has received strong support from area residents, banks and investors alike in the mill.

Osceola and Mississippi County have been buzzing since construction began, Stickler said.

Most if not all of the hotel and motel rooms in the Osceola area are sold out on a daily basis, while local businesses and trucking firms have seen a benefit as well.

Stickler told the committee that sales tax revenues in Mississippi County are up 17% in the past year or so. The growth can also be seen in retail, Stickler said after the meeting.

“When I first moved here, you could go to Walmart (in Osceola) and be in and out in five minutes. Now, it takes about 15 minutes,” Stickler said.

As construction continues, Stickler said company officials will be working to get the mill ready for the March 2016 start date.

A series of job fairs will be held during the fourth quarter of 2015 to find applicants. After that, the company will begin training and hiring people early next year, with the equipment and mill being commissioned next spring.

Officials hope to start moving steel in the third quarter of 2016.

The committee also heard from Arkansas Northeastern College President Dr. Jim Shemwell. He told the committee that the college has been and will continue to work with Big River Steel to get people ready, especially with the job fairs.

The college also has a program called the ANC Solutions Group. Shemwell said the program has helped nearly 70 area businesses with workforce and skills training for employees.

A unique part of the program is that it trains people on the company’s schedule, sometimes as early as 2 a.m., Shemwell said.

Michael Wilkey is a reporter with Talk Business and Politics.

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