YORKVILLE - An unidentified party may be close to buying the idled Ohio Cold Rolling Co. plant in Yorkville, one of several former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel plants sold following RG Steel's 2012 bankruptcy.
Ohio Cold Rolling Co. President Jim Tennant announced the potential deal during a visit by Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, to the nearby Ohio Coatings plant. Esmark owns a majority interest in the shuttered plant and 50 percent of the active Ohio Coatings plant, which employs 88 people.
"On April 4, there was a letter of intent signed from an interested party to potentially invest and buy out part of the shares in both the Ohio Coal Rolling Co. as well as Ohio Coatings and that's going through the due diligence phase right now," Tennant said, noting the picture should become clearer over the next six weeks.
Tennant added that non-disclosure agreements prohibit him and his colleagues from revealing who the potential buyer is. If the Ohio Cold Rolling plant is re-opened, former employees would be offered jobs first, though it is not known how many have retired or gained employment elsewhere.
Union leaders have criticized Esmark and its CEO, James Bouchard, for inactivity in restarting the plant. The company initially blamed "fiscal cliff" negotiations that took place between Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., in late 2012, and have also cited weak domestic demand for cold-rolled steel.
Even though 88 people work at Ohio Coatings - which finishes tin-plate steel for use all over North America in a variety of goods such as food cans, aerosol cans and oil filters - only 10 people are employed at Ohio Cold Rolling as a fire prevention crew.
But if the latter plant were to be restarted, total employment at the Yorkville plants could jump to 230, a considerable number for the financially strapped village.
Johnson expressed optimism that those jobs could come to be a reality.
"They're a significant employer in the area, and we want these folks to stay gainfully employed and put others to work as well, and it's all part of our jobs and economic development work that we do, trying to put the pieces together to make sure everybody's at the table that can solve a problem," Johnson said.
Johnson acknowledged that government can only do so much to bring those jobs back to Yorkville.
"This is not the kind of thing where we can come in and make this deal happen, but when you've got the hardworking people of eastern and southeastern Ohio at stake here, and you've got a business that has proven its value to the region, I think when we get the story out there it's an easy sell to get people to come to the table to try to make things happen," he said.
Johnson was accompanied on the tour by members of Yorkville council.