U.S. Steel to Build Alloy Production Facility in Black Belt Region

Mon June 16, 2008 - Southeast Edition
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) U.S. Steel Corp. plans to build a $450 million plant on the Tennessee-Tombigbee River near the tiny town of Epes in Sumter County.

U.S. Steel Operating Officer John Goodish said the plant would represent “the largest capital investment project” ever in Alabama’s economically depressed Black Belt region in west Alabama.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Goodish made the announcement at a meeting of the state Black Belt Action Commission. U.S. Steel officials say the facility will initially employ about 75 full-time workers and as many as 235 when all phases of the project are completed.

They also said it will require about 250 construction workers to build the facility, which will be located just off Interstate 59/20, about 50 mi. southwest of Tuscaloosa.

The facility will use a new process to make an alloy to be used in steel production at the company’s plant in Fairfield, near Birmingham. The new alloy will be used instead of coke, historically a key ingredient in the making of steel.

Goodish said besides providing jobs in the Black Belt, the project also shows the company is committed to the future of its Fairfield Works west of Birmingham. U.S. Steel, based in Pittsburgh, has been making steel in the Birmingham area for more than 100 years.

Goodish said the company plans to hire as many of the workers as possible from Sumter County. He said the jobs would pay about $50,000 a year, which Riley said would make plant workers among the highest paid in Sumter County.

Goodish said U.S. Steel plans to work with the University of West Alabama in nearby Livingston to train county residents for the high tech jobs.

The plant will be the biggest thing to happen in Epes since the town dried up more than a half century ago when planters stopped growing cotton — a crop that once controlled the area’s economy. Mayor Walter Porter said the town has 206 residents, one store, several lumber yards and a body shop. He said residents have to drive 10 mi. to Livingston to buy groceries.

“It’s going to mean survival for us,” Porter said. “I think it’s going to give our young people a lot of hope. Maybe it will keep them at home rather than losing them to larger cities like Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.”

Riley said the new industry would transform Epes and other Black Belt towns.

“It will launch these communities toward a brighter future. It will bring new hope to the families that live there,” Riley said.

Riley’s communications director, Jeff Emerson, said the company was offered more than $28 million in incentives to locate the plant in Sumter County. The incentives include grants to help clear property for the plant, grants to help train workers and tax breaks.

Porter has lived in Epes all his life and said he hopes the new plant will mean fulfillment of one of his favorite wishes.

“My dream has always been to bring about a development at the Epes exit of the interstate, something like a Wal-Mart,” Porter said.

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