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Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Future bright, says U.S. Steel chief

U.S. Steel Chief Executive Officer David Burritt told the state's economic development leaders Wednesday that he is "extraordinarily bullish" on Arkansas and the steelmaker's future in the state.

"This is a great state to do business," Burritt said as keynote speaker for the Arkansas Economic Development Foundation's annual luncheon.

In February, U.S. Steel broke ground for a $3 billion steel mill that is projected to create 900 new jobs in Osceola, adding to the company's Big River Steel operations in Mississippi County, which officials say will be the nation's largest steel-producing county when the new plant becomes fully operational in 2024.

The new production facility will feature two electric arc furnaces with 3 million tons per year of steelmaking capability, a state-of-the-art endless casting and rolling line, and advanced finishing capabilities. Upon completion, the project will apply to become LEED-certified, the company said.

On Monday, the company announced that the Big River Steel mill in Osceola was named the first ResponsibleSteel site certified in North America. The designation indicates operations meet key sustainability and production standards that are environmentally friendly.

Mississippi County's rise as a steel-producing region continues to build momentum. The industry, which also includes Nucor Steel, employs 3,000 people directly in the county. Another 1,200 are employed by steel-related businesses and suppliers, according to county economic development estimates.

Burritt said Wednesday the northeast Arkansas area will remain important to the company's drive for sustainable steel production and to grow operations. "Together we'll create an even better future with a stronger partnership," he said.

U.S. Steel, founded in 1901, has always worked to be a leader, according to Burritt. The company was the first to have $1 billion in sales, a market cap of $1 billion and the first to create a board of directors to lend corporate oversight, Burritt said.

The steelmaker plans to continue leading the way in key sustainability efforts, he said, noting that the company will focus on combining traditional integrated steelmaking with minimills, which are constantly seeking process improvements in production. The company also is investing to create a steel product that is 75% less carbon intensive.

"We want to create profitable steel solutions for our people and the planet," Burritt said. "The dramatic improvements we're making at Big River Steel are truly remarkable."

The future of steel production in Arkansas is "incredibly bright," he said. "We are building capabilities that others will struggle to match. We are bullish about U.S. Steel, the steel industry and Arkansas. We'll have challenges but we are going to overcome them."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson touted the state's focus on building a strong economic development approach. "We want the private sector to grow faster than the government sector," the governor said. "We want to restrain the government sector so that entrepreneurs succeed."

The luncheon is a key fundraising initiative for the economic development foundation, which promotes job growth and business development through research, site visits, prospect entertainment and recruitment support.

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