Rashnikov visits site

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 29, 2007

The chairman and CEO of a Russian steel company visited Scioto County with state officials Monday and continued negotiations on the construction of a more than $1 billion steel mill in Haverhill.

Victor Rashnikov, of Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works, or MMK, said an announcement on the project could come by the end of the year if environmental permits and other details are finalized.

“If everything goes well then maybe by the end of the year we’ll be able to tell something more concrete,” Rashnikov said through an interpreter during a press conference at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth. “It’s an opportunity to build a steel plant that would produce cold-rolled and galvanized steel for the automotive sector. We are going to produce a new kind of product that is well-demanded in the American market, but is not produced here so far.”

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Rashnikov said about 500 permanent jobs would be created in the first phase. He had no comment on future phases.

“For the moment, let us consider these 500 jobs because we cannot make a decision on future expansion,” he said. “We prefer to speak on things that are real.”

Gov. Ted Strickland was part of the site tour and said he wanted Rashnikov to get a first-hand look at the advantages of the Haverhill location, which is near a coke plant operated by SunCoke Energy of Knoxville, Tenn.

“We wanted to show this company what we had to offer in terms of land, infrastructure, the mighty Ohio River, rail, highway, access to power and all the things that make the Haverhill site so potentially attractive,” Strickland said. “This is not an announcement of an agreement, it’s one step of the process that could lead to a significant announcement at some later time.”

Steve Carter, executive director of the Scioto County Economic Development office, said Rashnikov’s appearance in Scioto County is a good sign that progress is being made in the negotiations.

“I think it’s a wonderful day in southern Ohio to have the presence of an international industrialist,” Carter said. “I just get a sense from the discussions that MMK is more than highly interested in this site and working with local labor.”

One of the topics discussed in Monday’s meeting was the ability of the local labor force to build the plant.

Strickland said those concerns were addressed.

“I think there is great confidence that the area is able to supply the work force level that will be required of a project of this magnitude. Those questions have been asked and I think have been answered to the satisfacton of MMK,” Strickland said. “The agencies of state government involved will be focused like a laser on trying to make sure no roadblocks occur which could unnecessarily delay or prevent this project from happing. There is a spirit of cooperation and we are hopeful, but not overly confident.”

Randy Basham, international representative of the United Steel Workers, said he hopes the company will consider a local trade group if the project comes to fruition.

“With Tri-State Building and Trades, their high-tech and skilled people want the jobs because if you’re asking for a tax abatement or tax relief from the people who live in the county here, why not consider those people (for the jobs),” Basham said. “It’s strictly up to that company if they want to do that or not. Our goal here is to get it built, get the jobs here and if we can organize them down the road, we’ll organize them.”

MMK is also considering a site in Quebec, Canada. When asked if he preferred the Ohio site, he responded, “Today, yes.”

Carter said there is reason for optimism.

“The Russians are here and that’s a good thing,” he said. “I think we’re close.”