AK Steel breaks ground on $36M research center

20 June 2015

AK Steel’s plans for building a new Research and Innovation Center in Middletown are about more than just construction of a new building, said James Wainscott, chairman, president and chief executive officer of the Butler County steelmaker.

“It really does underscore AK Steel’s strong commitment to the future of steelmaking in America and to our company’s continued industry leadership as a technical innovator,” Wainscott said Friday at a groundbreaking ceremony.

Friday’s ceremony marked the start of construction by Middletown’s largest employer on the new $36 million research center. Actual ground will be moved at the site in coming weeks. The event was supposed to take place at the construction zone on Union Road in Middletown, but was moved next door to Atrium Medical Center due to weather.

AK Steel will build the new 135,000-square-foot-facility on a 16-acre site in the city’s Renaissance District, near the intersection of Ohio 122 and Interstate 75. It is the first tenant in developer Schueler Group’s newest business park, named North Pointe Commerce Park. Drivers will be able to see the center from the highway once construction is complete by the end of next year.

“We love making things in America and, in particular, right here in Middletown, Ohio,” Wainscott said.

“It is my own view that when we make things, we manufacture things in America, it really is the backbone of the American economy,” he said. “Through this investment in research and innovation, we believe we’re doing our part to continue to keep the manufacturing torch lit in our great country.”

Construction of the research center is especially timely as AK Steel competes head on with other automotive material applications such as aluminum, Wainscott said. The automotive industry represents about half of AK Steel’s sales.

Activities at the center will focus on the development of automotive lightweight steels as well as advanced, high strength steels for other industries served by the company such as electrical and stainless steels, he said.

“There have obviously been over the years material substitutions, challenges from a variety of materials, probably none greater than what we’ve faced in recent years with aluminum,” Wainscott told the Journal-News. “We’ve got to have the products, we’ve got to have exactly what our customers want to meet their… standards for lightweighting.”

“We’re already doing some things at the existing research center… but we’ll be able to do even more at this new center and that’s the way that you keep it steel.”

Currently, about 76 researchers, scientists and engineers work at AK Steel’s existing research center on Curtis Street in Middletown, according to the company. Those workers will transfer to the new site when it opens, and about 15 new full-time jobs will be added.

The new center will create opportunities for the company’s researchers to use new technologies, tools and equipment to bring innovative ideas to reality, said Eric Petersen, vice president of research and innovation for the Fortune 500 steelmaker. One of the biggest advantages in the design of the new center over the old one is efficiency, Petersen said.

“We actually simulate the entire process of all of our operations all through our building, so that (steel) flow is very critical to us,” Petersen said.

Middletown City Council approved in May an incentives package for the research center project that includes borrowing $2.1 million to buy the land for the steelmaker.

Plans to build the research center were first announced in February this year.

“We have a long history together and really, with this new research center we look forward to a long and prosperous future together,” said Middletown Mayor Larry Mulligan Jr. “This state-of-the-art research center and innovation facility will be built in our Renaissance District. We expect future growth and development to occur here.”