Big River Steel announced Wednesday the completion of a $716 million expansion, which will double the capacity of its scrap metal recycling and flat-rolled steel production facility in Osceola to 3.3 million tons annually.
“When describing the success of our Phase Two construction efforts, I am extremely proud to be able to use my five favorite words: ‘ahead of schedule’ and ‘under budget.’ This achievement is a testament to the hard work and can-do attitude of our employees,” CEO Dave Stickler said in a news release.
Big River Steel of Osceola announced the expansion in June 2018. It was expected to cost $1.2 billion and create 500 jobs, doubling the mill’s workforce.
Originally slated to be commissioned on Jan. 27, the mill’s second electric arc furnace, ladle metallurgical station, thin-slab continuous caster, tunnel furnace and hot mill downcoiler were brought online more than two months early.
Big River Steel also said it plans an aggressive ramp-up to reach rated capacity in less than five months. Once that’s done, the company will produce close to 5,000 tons of steel per employee per year, up almost 66% from the 3,000 tons of steel per employee currently produced.
At $1.3 billion, the Big River Steel mill was a major economic development project by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the state Legislature, which in 2013 approved a multimillion-dollar package of incentives for it, including a $125 million bond issue under Amendment 82 of the Arkansas Constitution — the first time the “superproject” legislation was implemented.
In 2014, Arkansas Teacher Retirement System trustees authorized investing up to $125 million in Big River Steel. Koch Minerals, a subsidiary of Koch Industries of Wichita, Kansas, was an early — and major — investor in the project. Koch Metallics LLC now acts as Big River Steel’s exclusive agent for metallics procurement per an agreement announced in June.
Construction on the mill began in September 2014, and the company processed its first batch of steel in 2016.
In addition, U.S. Steel’s $700 million investment in Big River Steel, announced in October, was No. 3 on Arkansas Business’ Biggest Deals of 2019 list. That sum bought U.S. Steel a 49.9% ownership interest, and the Pittsburgh company has a call option to buy the remaining 50.1% within the next four years, a step executives said they plan to take.