When Hilco Trading of North- brook, Ill., bought the steel-making assets at the former RG Steel mill three months ago, the company issued a news release saying it would “do everything possible to find a purchaser for the facility that can operate the hot-mill facility as a going concern.”
But when a decision was made by Hilco to tear down the 1,200-acre facility in Warren, there was no public announcement from Gary Epstein, chief marketing officer for the company. It was Epstein who said in June that Hilco will “run a sale process that will include continuing to market the steel-making complex, vetting and evaluating all offers.”
Like most Mahoning Valley residents, we had our fingers crossed that the hot mill in the southeast area of the complex would attract a buyer. BDM Warren Steel Operations, which sold the former RG Steel facility to Hilco, had agreed to keep the hot mill intact for nine months after it took ownership in September 2012 by buying the mill out of bankruptcy.
The nine months ended in May, about the time BDM Warren, a partnership of C.J. Betters Enterprises of Monaca, Pa., and two businessmen, sold RG to Hilco. The Warren steel-making complex shut down in May 2012, bringing to an end a 100-year-plus operation.
It began in 1902 as Republic Steel Corp., then was purchased by Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp., which subsequently became LTV Steel. In the 1980s, LTV declared bankruptcy and was reorganized as WCI Steel. The Renco Group bought WCI, which filed for bankruptcy in 2002. Six years later, Severstal SA of Russia bought the mill and subsequently sold it to RG Steel in 2010.
That year, RG filed for bankruptcy, and BDM Warren took ownership.
Based on the public statements from C.J. Betters during meetings with business and political leaders and steel workers who had lost their jobs — more than 1,000 employees received pink slips — we, along with union leaders in this area, were cautiously optimistic that the hot mill, at least, would get a new lease on life.
“I came from Aliquippa,” Betters said. “I saw the same thing [a closed 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.”
The workers certainly were ready to perform, and the steelworkers’ union was willing to do whatever was necessary to get the mill back on track.
But with the filing of paperwork and permit applications to demolish all the property at the 1,200-acre facility, it appears another chapter of the Mahoning Valley’s big-steel heyday is ending.
The plans call for the demolition of seven buildings at the cold-mill site, and the hot mill to start coming down in late 2014. It is worth noting that BDM Warren spent about $1 million winterizing the hot mill, but the failure to find a buyer has put it on the chopping block — literally.
Whether there could be a last-minute reprieve is anybody’s guess. Gov. John Kasich, who has touted his administration’s economic development prowess, should send in a team from JobsOhio’s manufacturing division to find out what help the state and federal governments can provide in finding a buyer.
Every effort must be made by the Kasich administration and the administration of President Barack Obama to give the steel mill a fighting chance before it ends up in the trash heap of the Valley’s manufacturing history.