U.S. Steel broke ground Tuesday morning on its $3 billion Big River Works mill in northeast Arkansas that it says will be the most advanced in North America.
A ceremony with U.S. Steel President and CEO David Burritt and local and state officials, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson, was held on U.S. Steel’s Big River Steel campus in Osceola. That’s where the new mill will be located. On site was a BNSF freight train loaded with steel, about 3 million tons of which the new mill will produce annually for automakers.
Combined with the Big River Steel mill, the two plants form a mega mill capable of producing 6.3 million tons per year.
The new mill is the largest economic development project in the state’s history, Hutchinson reiterated during his remarks at the event. It's expected to create 900 jobs — 700 full-time and 200 contract workers, Company Spokesperson Amanda Malkowski told Arkansas Business — along with many more positions in the supply chain and temporary jobs in construction. Big River Steel already employs more than 600 people.
State leaders have said the new mill could also help Arkansas attract a major automaker.
It is expected to be completed and fully operational in 2024.
“This is amongst our brightest spots in the history of the company, and I can say unequivocally our best days are ahead. We've been through a lot with the last year, but the landscape we find ourselves in is pretty remarkable,” Burritt said Tuesday. “We have all-time record safety, all-time record environmental performance, all-time record quality, reliability, and all-time record profitability. So we find ourselves at a great, great time for U.S. Steel to invest in the future. But we're not without challenges.”
Those challenges include a large carbon footprint (U.S. Steel plans to be carbon-neutral by 2050), facilities in need of capital for repairs as well as maintenance, and competition, he continued. “We have carbon intensity. We have capital intensity, and we also have competitor intensity. And what we like to say is we’ve got to get faster because we know we have competitors out there that, frankly, are better than what we are today,” Burritt said.
He told the media after the event that the project offers cost and environmental benefits. The new mill will be 75% less carbon-intensive than a traditional mill, he said. “This is not your great-great-grandpappy’s U.S. Steel [mill]. This is a state-of-the-art, high tech mill,” Burritt said.
State Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston on Tuesday called the jobs this project will create green jobs and technology jobs. “These are the jobs that are going to drive Arkansas for the near future and for a generation. We’re here today to celebrate a generational project that you don’t see too often,” he said during his official remarks at the groundbreaking.
The governor told the media the area’s growth exciting, noting that people from Pittsburgh and Tennessee will be moving there to work at the new mill. He added that a project like this will help the state retain talent.
The theme of Tuesday’s festivities was that partnership at every level is what has made the Big River Works project a reality.
Burritt said during his official remarks and repeated to the media afterward that Arkansas loves U.S. Steel and the company loves the state.
The community embracing this project has made a difference, he said. Burritt added that Dan Brown, senior vice president of advanced technology steelmaking and chief operating officer of Big River Steel Works, who was also a speaker, already enjoys living in Osceola.
Burritt also said U.S. Steel will return the favor by contributing to the community however it can. “We’ll make this a great place to live because it was already a great place to work,” he said.
Asked about the possibility of an automaker following U.S. Steel to northeast Arkansas, he said that “would be an incredible thing for us: to have a partner, a customer, close by because that makes transportation costs lower and collaboration better. That’s the way these things work now. One company comes in, they find they get good partnership, more people come. … Customers are happy, employees are happy, stockholders are happy and it keeps going on and on and on as long as people collaborate and work well together.”