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Economy: Steel executives will meet with local leaders

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The mayor of Georgetown will have one request of executives from ArcelorMittal when they meet this week to discuss the future of the idle steel mill in the city. “I want them to quit marketing it as a steel mill,” Mayor Jack Scoville said.

The executives will meet Friday with U.S. 7th District Rep. Tom Rice and local leaders for their first discussion since a panel from the Urban Land Institute issued a study of the mill and adjacent port facilities that recommended their redevelopment as a mixed-use waterfront district.

ArcelorMittal is actively marketing the mill, which once produced wire rod, and is in “active discussions with several interested parties,” said William Steers, the company’s general manager for communications and corporate responsibility. “The company will consider all viable options brought forward and we are interested in selling the Georgetown property and its assets to any qualified buyers, public or private, at fair market value.”

Scoville said there is also some sentiment in the community for reopening the mill for steel production. “I don’t think you could have a working steel mill because of the pollution and all the mess that comes with that,” he said. “As far as the city’s concerned, the negative aspects of the mill outweigh the positives.”

City and county officials say they have tried to contact ArcelorMittal executives since the redevelopment study came out, but never heard back. This week’s meeting was arranged by Rice. Steers pointed out that ArcelorMittal opened the mill for the Urban Land Institute panel’s visit last year. “We appreciate efforts by the congressman’s office to facilitate a continuing dialogue among stakeholders interested in the future of ArcelorMittal’s Georgetown facility,” he said.

And while Scoville doesn’t welcome the idea of steel making, he said there are other industrial uses that could come to the site. “Steel fabrication might be something that would fit,” he said. “We are not going to support anything on that property that doesn’t have a significant jobs component.”

That’s one of his complaints about the steel mill. It went through a series of closures and each time it reopened there were fewer employees. That’s common in many industries, and something that is being addressed in the area around ArcelorMittal’s U.S. headquarters in Chicago through a collaborative project known as the Millennium Reserve.

Since it started in 2012, the collaborative has expanded across the state line into northwest Indiana. Two of the country’s largest integrated steel production facilities are within the collaborative’s 900 square miles, an area nearly the size of Georgetown County. Both are owned by ArcelorMittal.

Started by the state of Illinois, the bi-state effort is on course to become a nonprofit entity. That’s the same track Scoville envisions for the Georgetown mill redevelopment.

The Millennium Reserve adopted a set of sustainable development goals. “It’s recognizing the three goals of community, economic and environmental conservation are compatible and can even be synergistic,” said David Farren, executive director of the Donnelley Foundation and a member of the collaborative’s steering committee. Farren also has a home in Georgetown.

He has followed the Urban Land study and sees similarities to the Millennium Reserve, albeit on a smaller scale.

Steers chaired the steering committee for the Millennium Reserve and its bi-state successor, the Calumet Collaborative, named for the wider region.

One goal was to create what he calls “resilient communities,” in areas that have traditionally been dependent on large-scale manufacturing.

That is a “community engagement philosophy at ArcelorMittal,” Steers said. “We recognize that we have strategic and competitive assets in our communities and as our manufacturing footprint shifts to align with the company’s strategic priorities, there are opportunities to explore solutions to ensure that those communities are more resilient in adjusting to those realities.”

One of the early priorities was expanding a “green manufacturing” partnership to create a competitive workforce.

The collaborative represents over 30 public, private and non-governmental organizations. The goal wasn’t to create a new plan, but to examine existing plans to see which ones had items that could be readily implemented. Some of those included wildlife conservation, recreational access to waterways and designation of historic sites.

In the Calumet region as in Georgetown there was interest in putting ArcelorMittal property to other uses. “We have experience engaging with stakeholders when and where there are realistic opportunities to create shared value,” said Steers, who was scheduled to attend Friday’s meeting in Georgetown. In other regions the company has given unused property to the community, engaged in conservation activities and shared in economic development projects. “However, all of these examples presented shared value or win-win propositions for both the communities and the company, which took time to create,” Steers said.

Farren credits Steers’ leadership with moving the collaborative forward. “I’ve found him to be a wonderful person to work with,” he said.

Though he was not aware of the collaborative, Scoville said he would like to get ArcelorMittal “on board” in Georgetown.

Public input: A series of public meetings in Georgetown will solicit comment on the redevelopment plan for the steel mill. They start today, March 2, at Screven Baptist Church, 221 S. Island Road; March 6 at Howard Auditorium, 1610 Hawkins St.; and March 7 at Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church, 901 Highmarket St. The meetings will run from 6 to 8 p.m.

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