$215M U.S. Steel project provides spark for Alabama steel industry

$215M U.S. Steel project provides spark for Alabama steel industry
U.S. Steel's Tubular Operations in Fairfield will get a boost in capacity -- and jobs -- from an electric arc furnace the company plans to install. (contributed)

United States Steel Corp.’s plans to invest $215 million to install a technologically advanced electric arc furnace at Fairfield Works is expected to provide a boost to Alabama’s steelmaking industry in its historic home.

U.S. Steel had initiated construction of the EAF at its Tubular Operations in Fairfield in March 2015 but suspended construction in December 2015 because of unfavorable market conditions.

The project’s revival means the addition of 150 jobs at the Jefferson County facility. The company said the EAF will have an annual capacity of 1.6 million tons.

U.S. Steel has been making steel in Birmingham for more than a century. (Birmingham Business Alliance)

“This puts Birmingham back on the map in the steel industry, which is a backbone of our region,” said Mark Brown, vice president of Business Retention and Expansion at the Birmingham Business Alliance. “The sustainable technology that will be used in the EAF will solidify Birmingham’s future in the industry for years to come.

“U.S. Steel’s investment will have a monumental impact and will drive future growth for our region,” he added.

U.S. Steel CEO David Burritt cited improved market conditions, President Donald Trump’s strong trade actions, support from the United Steelworkers and incentives from the State of Alabama and the Jefferson County Commission as reasons for the project’s revival.

“This investment is an important step to improve our cost structure and positions our tubular business to win over the long term,” Burritt said. “We are committed to investing in the sustainable steel technology required to be a value-added tubular solutions provider for our customers.”

AIDT support

AIDT, the state’s primary workforce development agency, agreed to provide recruitment, pre-employment training and certain post-employment training support for the expected 150 new employees at U.S. Steel’s Fairfield Works. The AIDT commitment is estimated at nearly $1.4 million, according to data from the Alabama Department of Commerce.

The BBA said U.S. Steel employs 750 in Fairfield and expects to add the 150 new jobs by 2020, bringing the total employee count to 900.

The project will provide a lift to employment in Alabama’s steelmaking industry. Primary metals manufacturing jobs in Alabama stood at around 23,000 in October 1997. Today, the figure is just over 17,000, after adding 3,000 jobs since mid-2009.

In Birmingham, primary manufacturing employment is around 5,500, up slightly since late 2016 but down over the long term, according to data from the St. Louis Federal Reserve.

U.S. Steel has been making steel in Birmingham for more than 100 years. Construction on the EAF is expected to begin immediately, the company said, and the furnace is expected to produce steel rounds by late 2020, according to the BBA.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

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