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Preserving Some Local Steel Jobs

August 4, 2012
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel was the glue that held the Ohio Valley economy and several of our communities together for decades. Though the firm's operations recently have been under different ownership - Esmark, Severstal and most recently RG Steel - it was good to know most of the old Wheeling-Pitt mills remained under unified management.

That ended suddenly this spring, with RG Steel's bankruptcy. Now, it appears, the company has been broken up with finality. Several facilities in the Northern Panhandle and East Ohio have been purchased, but by different people and companies.

That is sad, in a way, as Wheeling-Pitt was part of our area's identity for

generations.

But from the standpoint of basic survival - and jobs, we hope, for area residents - the sell-off may be a good thing.

RG Steel assets in the Ohio Valley that were sold this week went to several new owners and one old one, as we have reported. Some went to a major steel producer, Nucor Inc. The Yorkville mill was bought by a partnership between Esmark and TCC Steel Co. of South Korea. Ohio County industrialist Quay Mull and attorney Joseph Gompers purchased the Martins Ferry plant. A Buffalo, N.Y., company, Frontier Industrial, will take over the Mingo Junction mill.

An idea of just how bad things had become under RG Steel's ownership can be gained by prices paid for the local properties. The Mingo Junction, Yorkville and Martins Ferry plants sold for a total of about $26.7 million. Just a few years ago when Severstal bought the old Wheeling-Pitt from Esmark, the package price for the company was about $1 billion.

By week's end it appeared some jobs might be salvaged from the collapse. Mull said plans were for some operations at Martins Ferry. There were indications production was in the future for Yorkville, with Esmark CEO James Bouchard speculating more than 200 steelworkers could be called back there.

Through no stretch of the imagination is it possible to expect jobs anywhere near the scale of the old Wheeling-Pitt empire, however.

But new ownership represents a last chance to preserve some jobs. Local, state and federal officials should bear that in mind in dealing with the new owners on issues ranging from water bills to tax rates.

Some may consider the breakup a bad thing - but it was inevitable. Again, the new ownership mix may allow surviving production facilities to be operated more efficiently.

And the bottom line is this: What happened this week certainly beats the alternative - a complete and final shutdown of the old Wheeling-Pitt mills.

 
 

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