Georgetown steel mill headed for Aug. 13 closure

23 July 2015

The Arcelor Mittal steel mill in Georgetown is headed for an Aug. 13 permanent closure.

The rolling mill is shut down and the rest of the product should be sold by the end of this week, a company spokeswoman confirmed.

A Florida investor who said he wants to buy the mill had no comment Wednesday, but plant officials said they continue to be willing to “consider credible interest from potential buyers.”

On May 14, Arcelor Mittal announced it would close the wire rod mill, which opened in 1969, around Aug. 12. The company is required by its contract with the United Steelworkers to give 90 days notice.

The closure is forced by dumping of imported steel at prices lower than Arcelor Mittal can make it, company officials said. The company and several other steelmakers filed a complaint with the U.S. Commerce Department seeking action to slow the imports.

A May 22 followup letter to the union from mill manager Danie Devapiriam said layoffs would begin July 24 “or during the 14-day period thereafter.”

At the time of the announcement, 172 steelworkers were employed at the plant, along with 27 others who work for a sister company, and about 30 executive and administrative staffers.

The workers will receive preference for jobs at other Arcelor Mittal plants, the company spokeswoman said.

Efforts to reach Steelworkers Local 7898 president James Sanderson were unsuccessful Wednesday.

At one time, the mill had more than 1,000 employees but after a series of bankruptcies, steel company mergers and buyouts, it pared down but still made a high quality of wire rod and was Mittal's only wire rod plant in the United States.

Joseph G. Wortley, a Boca Raton, Fla., entrepreneur with holdings in a variety of businesses, said he wanted to buy the steel mill. Wortley tried to buy it during its 2002 bankruptcy sale but was unsuccessful.

He said his family had a history in the steel business in Pennsylvania and he had not lost his interest in buying the plant and making it profitable despite the flood of imports. Wortley said he thought he could promote and take advantage of the special quality of the wire rod as an independent factory in ways that a global company such as Arcelor Mittal could not do.

He said in May that the mill makes good steel and it deserves to continue to operate.

On Wednesday, Wortley was noncommittal about whether his purchase attempt is still on.

“Unfortunately, I can only say no comment,” he said. “I really can't say anything, I wish I could.”

Georgetown County's economic development director, Brian Tucker, said the steelworkers have the kind of skill sets that could be transferred to other positions available in the area. There is an unmet need for skilled workers and they could fit into it, Tucker said.

“Our first priority is to help find new positions for those employees as quickly as possible,” he said.

The second priority if the closure occurs is to “determine the best path forward for that property,” and be involved in decisions about it, Tucker said.

He said the company has indicated it is willing to work with the county and city on those issues.

The mill sprawls over more than 60 acres between the riverfront and South Fraser Street, which is also U.S. 17. Some of the property is scattered sites such as the company offices a block off South Fraser, and the old City Hall on Front Street.

During the previous bankruptcies and temporary shutdowns, many people hoped for a chance for the property to be transformed into a more tourist-friendly locale for the historic waterfront.

Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville said residents are split about 50-50 on wanting the mill to continue to operate, or wanting it to be replaced with something like a marina and shops.