Proposed Big River Steel Mill Gives Community ‘Reason to Exist'

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 12:00 am  

• A $175 million rebar plant in Amory, Miss. Ground was broken for the plant in 2008, but Correnti and partners never came up with the necessary funding.

Events largely out of Correnti’s control doomed those projects, Chitwood said, citing the housing bust, the subsequent recession and the failure by the federal government to support the alternative energy industry. And disappointed Mississippians have short memories, neglecting to credit Correnti for the $650 million steel mill he started in Lowndes County, Chitwood said. That Severstal plant now employs about 700.

“He brought them one great steel mill down there. That’s what I cannot understand. A success like he brought them with Severstal, those are once-in-a-lifetime things,” Chitwood said. “If Santa Claus brings you a bag of toys but forgets the licorice stick, maybe you could cut him a break,” he said, laughing.

Grant Tennille and his team at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission said they had read the stories about Correnti’s failures but decided to focus on his track record starting the kind of businesses he’s proposing for Arkansas: steel mills.

Regarding the silicon and rebar projects, “in neither case were any deals struck for state incentives. No state money was ever paid to anybody. No deals ever closed,” said Tennille, executive director of the AEDC. The economic downturn scuttled those projects, he said.

“We looked at those things and we understood what had happened and obviously it made us cautious,” Tennille said. “But one of the things we kept falling back on is that every time this guy has built a steel mill, he’s built the steel mill and it’s operated. And in every case, they’re still operating.”

Correnti is a deal maker, Tennille said, and some of those deals have been better than others. “But if we’re going to be partners with somebody who’s going to build a steel mill, he may be the best one in the whole world.”

Tennille has also emphasized the safeguards the state has sought to build into the deal, which calls for Arkansas to issue general obligation bonds to fund a $50 million loan to Big River, $70 million to prepare the site and $5 million for bond insurance.

And he emphasized the deep pockets of the investors, particularly the Koch brothers, whose Koch Industries of Wichita, Kan., has annual revenue of about $115 billion, making it one of the largest private companies in the United States.

In addition, Correnti is a known quantity in Arkansas. He maintains a home in Blytheville and once led Nucor Inc., which has two steel facilities in Mississippi County. “I’ve got a lot of comfort with Osceola because of my history there,” Correnti said.

‘Steel Mill Heaven’

Correnti has called the site of the proposed mill “steel mill heaven” because of its proximity to methods of transportation: the Mississippi River, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and Interstate 55.



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