Osceola Mayor Calls Big River Steel a 'Godsend'

The impact of the news Tuesday that a $1 billion steel mill is coming to Osceola in Mississippi County can't be overstated.

Osceola Mayor Dickie Kennemore even called it a "Godsend."

The plant, the size of which has yet to be revealed but which will sit on 1,140 acres adjacent to and south of the city on Highway 198, will employ 525 at an average starting salary of $75,000.

Let that sink in for a minute. Seventy-five grand as an individual income will take you places in Little Rock. In Osceola? As Big Steel CEO John Correnti and Kennemore each implied, car dealerships, restaurants and businesses all over the region are licking their chops.

Plus, at the peak of construction, about 2,000 workers will be employed. Correnti noted the impact of construction workers on similar projects in other states amounting to as much as a 17 percent increase in local sales tax receipts.

Correnti, who has opened mills like the one planned for Big Steel before, said a favorite part of his job is driving by a plant and seeing all the brand new trucks in the parking lot.

Competitive starting salaries and attractive retirement packages are necessary to lure the kind of commitment needed for the job, Kennemore said. The floor workers who draw that much will earn every penny, he said. He called it a physically demanding job that will attract many of the area's young men.

Kennemore also called it a blessing for his town of roughly 7,500 -- not just an economic event, but a social event.

"We've struggled to create jobs," he told Arkansas Business. The mechanization of farming has taken its toll on Delta towns like Osceola, he said, and an influx of 500 high-paying jobs will enable area residents to significantly raise their quality of life. He cited as an example families being able to send their kids to college.

Kennemore said the site chosen by Big Steel has been looked at by four or five other "super projects."

Arkansas native Correnti, who said he has maintained his residence in Blytheville, is "delighted to be back in Arkansas" and lauded Arkansas "farm boys and girls" as having shown the kind of work aptitude necessary to work in a steel mill. Give them the right tools and right training and they'll succeed, he said.

"It's for the stout," he said of steel mill work. "But that's Arkansas for you."

Correnti said about 20 to 25 employees will be brought in from out of state, but the remiander will come from within a 100-150 mile radius of Osceola.

Loose ends remain to be tied -- regulatory issues, legislative oversight -- but Gov. Mike Beebe told reporters on Tuesday that he had a "significent degree of confidence" that everything would be done to ensure the deal goes through.