Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Steeled for the Worst: Town Fears No. 1 Firm May Leave

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Steeled for the Worst: Town Fears No. 1 Firm May Leave

Article excerpt

The steelmaking company George M. Verity founded has been fueling the fires of this city's economy since the turn of the century.

That's why the announcement late last year that the company - now known as AK Steel Corp. - will build a $1.1 billion steel finishing plant near Rockport, Ind., rocked this city.

There is fear that the Indiana expansion sets up a future decision by AK Steel to abandon its Middletown headquarters - and perhaps even its mill, the Middletown Works in southwestern Ohio. "Our members are scared - scared for their families, for their jobs and their communities," said Michael Bailey, president of the Armco Employees Independent Federation union. The union represents 3,300 hourly employees at Middletown Works. "They have told us loud and clear: fight for our futures," he said. "We intend to redouble our efforts to keep the company in Middletown." Generations of families have labored at the Middletown Works, founded in 1900 as American Rolling Mill Co. The company helped build the city, now 53,000 people, and is still its biggest employer, with a work force of 4,200. Sally Southard, a Butler County commissioner, urged residents to overcome their disappointment about the Indiana expansion and make clear AK Steel is still appreciated as the community's economic lifeline. "We will want to do everything we can for AK Steel to make a decision in the future to be expanding here," she said. They shouldn't worry, said AK Steel President and Chief Executive Richard Wardrop Jr. He said building on the southern Indiana site is a good business decision. The nearby Ohio River can be used to ship finished steel to customers in the auto and appliance industries and bring in raw materials, he said. He also said AK Steel has invested $500 million during the past three years in its steel mills in Middletown and nearby Ashland, Ky., and it won't leave that investment. "I think there are a lot of people worried that we're going to walk away, and that's crazy," he said. The company considered rebuilding the Middletown mill, but wanted to avoid the expensive outage that would have caused, he said. Instead, Middletown can now concentrate on producing a steady stream of rolled carbon steel to be finished at the Rockport Works, scheduled to operate by late 1999. …

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