By Frank Lewis
John Schultes, CEO of New Steel International, Inc., says it is his priority to build the steel producing plant that would employ around 2,000 people, in Franklin Furnace.
“We owe it to the people there (Scioto County),” Schultes told the Daily Times in an exclusive interview. “We made a promise. Does that mean that’s the only place we’re looking at? No. But we are very committed to this one as long as the community wants to work with us.”
Schultes testified Wednesday before the Ohio House Public Utilities Committee on behalf of House Bill 312 which would allow a special charge on electricity bills to provide an electricity discount for projects that create jobs. New Steel is attempting to contract with an energy company to have that company purchase excess energy produced by the plant, thus creating income for the company to use to finance the project itself.
“This is basically a way to finance a project together with a big utility partner,” Schultes said. “And we would buy electricity back from them.”
Schultes told the Times he feels confident his company will be able to find an energy company to partner with.
“I think so,” Schultes said. “This plant will already help the country to lower greenhouse gas emissions; use coal more efficiently and ultimately make better steel for a lot of manufacturing industries. We have communicated that with a number of federal agencies already and they have expressed a very strong interest in Washington.”
The legislation was sponsored by State Representative Dr. Terry Johnson (R-McDermott), who worked on the bill as a way to expedite the New Steel project at Franklin Furnace. Johnson told the Daily Times he believes Schultes made an impression on the committee.
“I would say it was well presented, well received by the Public Utilities Committee and the House of Representatives,” Johnson said. “They are very interested in anything that would help develop this hard-hit economic region in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky. So the prospect of bringing jobs and prosperity here in a project like that, of course interests them. And so I think that’s going to help the bill get some traction.”
Schultes agreed with Johnson’s assessment.
“I think it went well,” Schultes said. “I think it was a good opportunity to work together with Dr. Johnson to make our case. And I think it was well received.”
Area citizens and business leaders came together last year to invest $500,000 in a Hatch Study to help further the project by providing viability information for potential corporate investors. Recently the Scioto County Commissioners and Southern Ohio Port Authority Director Jason Kester, pushed back on a request for another $100,000, saying they would not provide any more money without an explanation of the need and a copy of the Hatch Study.
The steel and related power plant would cost $6-$7 billion to build. In addition to the nearly 2,000 permanent jobs, the project would also create around 1,500 construction jobs. To some people in this area who are close to the project, it may seem like the process has gone on for an excessive amount of time.
“Building a plant or any project of this magnitude is very complex,” Johnson said. “A lot of pieces are involved, not the least of which is financing the likes of which we seldom see in this region. You’re talking billions of dollars. Therefore there are so many things that figure into this and so many things that can go wrong. On the other hand, we need to do everything that we can do to help them realize this dream, because it’s transformational for southern Ohio, our entire region and really for America in general. This is a really big deal, and I want to do everything I can do to realize it.”
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 252, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.