The company said its representatives will be visiting the state this month to meet with state and local officials. However, those same local officials insist the deal is still far from certain.
Representatives from MMK are expected to visit the state during the week of Sept. 17 to meet with Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, as well as one representative from the Scioto County Commissioner's Office and one from the Southern Ohio Port Authority.
“Executives will be here the week of the 17th and that will be a continuation of discussions that were begun in July when the lieutenant governor visited Russia, but at this point we have no further details,” said Melissa Ament, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Development.
The cost of Fisher's envoy to Russia last July was a topic of some controversy, but the lieutenant governor said the expense was appropriate and necessary given the nature of the potential deal.
“Because we're competing with other states, the only way to get to the front of the line was to go there,” Fisher said.
It has been widely reported, though unconfirmed thus far, that MMK is considering building a plant in Ohio to supply the automotive industry.
The plant is said to represent a possible $1 billion investment and more than 1,000 new jobs. The firm is said to be looking at sites near two SunCoke facilities in Haverhill along the Ohio River, which would allow MMK to more easily buy coke to fuel its blast furnaces.
Ament said she could not confirm the reasons for the visit at this time, she would only confirm that a meeting will take place. The Governor's Office also would not comment on the nature of the meeting.
However, a news release distributed this week by MMK itself left seemingly little doubt that the steel company plans to move forward in their deal with the state of Ohio. The company's own release carried the declaratory headline, “Russia's MMK to invest over $1 billion in U.S. steel works.”
The statement goes on to read, “The Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works plans to invest over $1 billion in the construction of a U.S. steel producer with a capacity of 1.5 million metric tons of rolled iron.”
MMK President Viktor Rashnikov said he will be meeting with Strickland during the week of Sept. 17, but also said the company was waiting for the environmental committee's permission. He said he hopes to have all necessary approvals by the end of the year.
Scioto County Economic Development Director Steve Carter said this area has been competing with other states to receive the plant, but said there are no other locations being considered in Ohio. Furthermore, Rashnikov said in the company's release the plant “would be built in Ohio,” which seems to eliminate all suggestion of further competition, indicating their intentions for Scioto County.
Carter said MMK may be all set to lay down shop in Scioto County, but the state and county also need to approve the deal, which requires a lengthy series of government approvals and public meetings.
“Even though we're positive about the signing of the new plant in west Scioto County, we are not confident,” Carter said.
Bob Walton, of the Southern Ohio Port Authority, said he was surprised to see MMK release such a statement.
“When they first started talking about having this meeting, they were wanting it to be really hush-hush, and they didn't want anything discussed about it. But the president of the company comes out with a press release,” he said.
Walton said he was looking forward to seeing the southern Ohio region return to its steel manufacturing roots, which began in 1827 with the first blast furnace in Franklin Furnace. By the 1930s, the steel industry employed thousands in the tri-state region.
The Portsmouth Iron Company followed in 1831, and built the first rolling mill in Ohio in 1832, at the corner of Front and Washington streets. The mill changed ownership several times over the following years, before the entire operation was destroyed by fire on June 7, 1889. The plant was then relocated to New Boston, where it again changed ownership and titles several times before closing its doors forever in 1980.
“There have been a lot of people for a long time in this community that have said that we should not give up on heavy industry coming back into the Ohio River Valley. The same things that originally brought this (steel) industry to the Ohio River Valley a century ago are basically still here today; the natural resources, the river, the rail and a good work force. We're going to capitalize on it once again. We are going to once again be a steel mill community, with a coke plant as well,” Walton said.
New Boston Mayor James Warren said he too was looking forward to the boost the steel mill could provide this area, remembering the days of Detroit Steel in New Boston.
“I think it'll be a good boon for Scioto County. We prospered here in the village of New Boston with the steel plant, and it had a major impact upon employment. It also will create housing and other job opportunities,” Warren said.
He said the closing of the New Boston steel mill had a dramatic impact on the entire region - many losing their insurance, their cars and even their homes.
“I'm hoping we'll see a rebirth in Scioto County for job creation and for new businesses,” Warren said.
Walton said he believes the project's construction, if approved, will be phased into development over the next several years.
“We'll be better off if it is phased in; to have five or six or 700 construction workers working over a longer period of time rather than 1,500 or 2,000 working for a shorter period of time,” Walton said. “It gives them longer work and more likelihood that we could supply all of those workers locally, so there wouldn't have to be anybody brought in from outside the tri-state area.”
Carter, however, said whether or not the construction could be done by local contractors, or if MMK would supply their own, is one of the issues that still needs to be addressed.
“The company will be in discussions with the Tri-state Local Construction Council,” he said.
Once the construction jobs are complete, the facility itself is expected to maintain more than 1,000 production jobs.
Walton said he was expecting to attend the meeting this month on behalf of SOPA. Carter said he too was planning to attend on SOPA's behalf (as its treasurer) and pointed out that Ohio Sunshine Laws permit only one person to attend from each governmental unit.
“I have been the lead contact person for this project for the county for over the past year. I have been involved intensely with this project, and have gotten all of the requested information necessary on the site to the company,” Carter said, making a case for his involvement in the meeting later this month.
The ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this story. RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235, and by e-mail at email@example.com.