Good intentions alone won’t restart RG Steel

There’s a glimmer of hope today that the RG Steel plant in Warren will reopen — given the announcement by the new owner that a key piece of equipment will be saved, and that the facility will be winterized.

Charles Betters of Monaca, Pa., came to the Mahoning Valley last week and met with workers and political and business leaders with a commitment to do all he can to find someone who knows how to run a steel plant. Betters’ company, C.J. Betters Enterprises, is in the demolition business with Independence Excavating. One of their projects was a tin mill in Aliquippa, Pa.

But while conceding that he does not have the experience in operating a steel mill, the new owner did offer a poignant observation that should give hope to the more than 1,000 workers who have been laid off.

“I came from Aliquippa,” Betters said. “I saw the same thing [a closed steel mill] happen. I know it doesn’t feel good. … Remember this day. I know what the jobs mean. I get it. If we’re lucky enough to get a restart, perform.”

As an indication of his commitment to the plant’s future, Betters said he and his lawyers spent weeks in bankruptcy court, where the future of RG Steel rests, working to resolve an issue pertaining to the mill’s boiler.

ArcelorMittal, which runs the coke plant next to the Warren mill, has an option to buy the boiler. If it does, the plant’s future will be sealed — shut.

Betters said he and his partners, Independence Excavating of Cleveland and Grouse Ridge Capital of Butler, Pa., have a lot of “informational resources” to enable them to connect with a group that could run the mill. The bankruptcy court has approved Betters’ purchase of the RG Steel facility for $16 million.

Since Betters was first identified as the new owner, there have been persistent rumors that he intended to cannibalize the plant and also to sell the mineral rights for oil and gas exploration.

He addressed those rumors by saying that while demolishing it would be more profitable and that he and his partners could conceivably triple their investment, they remain committed to seeing the plant operating again.

As he has done in the past, Betters delivered a “we’re all in this together” message to Valley residents.

“We’re going to need some luck, support from labor and management,” and help from the state, he said.

Economic impact

Given the number of jobs that are at stake and the economic impact on the city of Warren, in particular, and the Valley, in general, if the plant is shut down permanently, the federal government must also get involved.

We would urge the Obama administration to send in a team of experts to not only evaluate the facility, but to work with Betters and his partners in finding a company to make steel again.

The new owner said he would be willing to sell the facility to someone who wants to reopen it, or would stay on as a partner.

President Obama, a Democrat, and Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, should set aside their political differences and join forces in developing an economic incentive package that would facilitate the reopening of the RG Steel mill.

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