Steel company to build $1 billion plant in Mississippi County


LITTLE ROCK — Big River Steel announced plans Tuesday to build a more than $1 billion steel mill in Mississippi County that will employ more than 500 people with annual average pay of $75,000 a year.

Gov. Mike Beebe will ask the Legislature to authorize the issuance of $125 million in general obligation bonds to support the project under Amendment 82, the first such use of the so-called superprojects amendment passed in 2004.

Beebe joined company officials in announcing the project during a news conference at the state Capitol.

Big River Steel CEO John Correnti praised Arkansas’ work force and the state’s location “in the heart of the markets we intend to serve” and the state’s transportation infrastructure and availability of reliable electrical power.

Beebe said that “a project of this scope will be a catalyst for job creation, investment and economic development beyond this one facility. Building Big River Steel will mean up to 2,000 construction jobs, and it will help us recruit more supplier businesses and steel consumers to northeast Arkansas.”

Big River will produce steel for the automotive, oil and gas, and electrical energy industries. Construction of the mill will take about 20 months from breaking ground, which is expected later this year.

Once final details of the project are finalized, the Legislature will have 20 days to conduct its own independent economic impact study, Beebe said. The proposal will then be drafted into legislation to be considered by legislative committees and voted on in the House and Senate.

House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, said Tuesday that legislators will fulfill their responsibility to study the proposal with due diligence, but he admitted to being excited about the news.

“It’s kind of hard not to be excited about it,” Carter said. “It’s a big deal for people to want to come into the state and create 500-plus jobs that are well-paying. That’s a good thing, (but) that’s a separate issue from whether or not it makes economic sense to get involved in the ways we’ve been requested to.”

Sen. Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, said he was optimistic that the deal would be supported in the Senate but added it needs to be studied first.

“It’s an exciting announcement,” Lamoureux said. “I’m hopeful it will pass. We have a constitutional obligation to do the due diligence that is outlined in Amendment 82. We’re going to proceed slowly and carefully and make sure we do what we’re supposed to do.”

Under the $125 million bond proposal:

—$50 million would be loaned to Big River Steel, to be repaid to the state over time.

—$50 million would be used for site preparation for the plant.

—$20 million would be used for subsurface stabilization at the site.

—$5 million would cover the cost of issuing bonds.

Correnti said he was excited about the project locating in Arkansas.

“This site is steel mill heaven,” Correnti said, noting that just to the east of the plant site is the Mississippi River, and just to the west are railroad lines “to take our product all over the country and bring our scrap metal in from all over the country.”

Plans call for Entergy Arkansas to construct a major power station on the property, which is about three miles away from Interstate 55.

“From a logistics standpoint, it’s great,” Correnti said.

Osceola Mayor Dickie Kennemore said the project would change demographics of Mississippi County, and Osceola in particular, now and for generations to come. It will positively affect the region’s economy, every aspect of its citizens’ lives and every entity in the community, he said.

The plant “is going to bring a struggling Delta county out of the doldrums and it allows hard-working people … to educate their kids, send their kids to college, feed their kids and have a quality of life and a self-esteem that they’ve never had before,” the mayor said.

Mississippi County Judge Randy Carney said the project is the result of “intelligent, successful and aggressive businessmen” working with “an aggressive town with strong local leadership.”

“We may be a small town in a small county in a small state, but we don’t act like it sometimes,” Carney said. “We think big and we act big and we have a big governor.”

Clifton Chitwood, Osceola’s director of economic development, said after the news conference that Mississippi County would contribute $12 million to the project and the city $2 million, to be used to help in the purchase of the land and construction of a natural gas pipe line.

He said Mississippi County residents passed a one-half cent sales tax increase several years ago specifically for recruiting industry to the area.