U.S. Steel CEO David Burritt had already made clear what attracted his company to commit to building Arkansas' largest economic development project ever, a $3 billion 21st-century steel mill in Osceola.
The industrial giant, based in Pittsburgh, praised Arkansas' geography, business environment and people when it bought Big River Steel of Osceola in two installments, and again early this year when it announced plans for the new mill.
But that's not the only reason Burritt was the keynote speaker Wednesday at the Arkansas Economic Development Foundation's annual banquet at Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who got a lot of credit from Burritt for his direct appeals to corporations to locate in Arkansas, used strategic timing to ask Burritt to keynote the event.
"Whenever we had the groundbreaking for U.S. Steel in Osceola [Feb. 8], I asked David if he'd come and speak here," the governor said. "He said yes; it was sort of an awkward moment to say no."
Burritt, U.S. Steel's chief since 2017, told the crowd of hundreds of businesspeople, economic developers and others that it is perfecting new ways of steelmaking, combining the strengths of traditional "integrated mills" and modern environmentally friendlier mini-mills like Big River.
Burritt had a couple of stories to illustrate what he likes about Arkansans, recalling an anecdote Big River CEO Dan Brown relayed to him after moving to Osceola.
"He's moving into his house and somebody pulls up and asks him if he needs help," Burritt said. "Somebody who just asked to help him move in."
After the U.S. Steel announcement, another employee buying a bottled water was asked where he worked. When he answered, the clerk blurted, "We love you. The water's free."
"That's uncommon," Burritt said, "and that's Arkansas. It's incredible to partner with people and feel loved. It's a remarkable state with remarkable opportunities."
Of course, other factors like a central location, access to the Arkansas River and railways played a part. Not to mention the success of Big River Steel, which was prospering before U.S. Steel bought it.
Combined with Big River, the new plant will form a "mega mill" capable of producing 6.3 million tons of steel per year.
It is the state's larges project ever, creating 900 jobs along with other positions in the supply chain and construction. Big River Steel already employs 600.
One hope is that the huge steel mill will help the state attract a major automaker.
Burritt on Wednesday shared his vision for U.S. Steel after providing a quick review of his company's history — U.S. Steel was formed in 1901 and was the first American corporation to reach a billion dollars in sales, the first to have a billion-dollar market capitalization, the first to install a board of directors and send out an annual report. "We had the first explicit code of conduct, and we even invented the term 'safety first,'" Burritt said. "But that was a long, long time ago, and the road we've been on more recently has been feast or famine, feast or famine."
The road ahead leads squarely through Arkansas, he said. "Our mission is pretty simple. We want profitable steel solutions for our people, and for our planet. We're creating steels that haven't been managed before, and we're going to use natural gas, eventually hydrogen, but those things are in the future.
"We're laying the groundwork here now. The dramatic improvements we're making at Big River Steel Steel are clearly remarkable. Again, it's the first LEED-certified steel company in the United States," Burritt said.
"We like to put our money where we make money. And Arkansas has proved the power of partnership."