U.S. Steel meeting

State Rep. Frank Burns, D-Jackson Township, left, discusses efforts in Johnstown to lure U.S. Steel's planned mini mill to the city, joined by state Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Ferndale, center, and state Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Richland Township, right, following a meeting Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, at Rigby's office in the city's Roxbury neighborhood.

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Johnstown appears to be in competition with a lot of cities nationwide to be the answer to U.S. Steel Corp.’s search for a place to invest in a $3 billion mini-mill.

Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Ferndale, spoke with a U.S. Steel governmental affairs representative this week about the company’s site selection for its mill.

“He liked the direction we were going – bringing together all governmental bodies – but he didn’t want to give us any false hope, either,” Rigby said. “He didn’t say no, which to me was a positive. He recommended we continue on the path we started.”

With that encouragement, Johnstown’s elected representatives from the federal level to the local level met Friday at Rigby’s office on Franklin Street to form a plan to win a commitment from U.S. Steel.The mini-mill would bring at least 300 family-sustaining jobs to Johnstown, Rigby said.

U.S. Steel had mills in Johnstown in the past, but closed in 1984 with the contraction of the steel industry.

Historically, Johnstown has had pros and cons as a location for the steel industry, according to the Johnstown Area Heritage Association. Importing raw materials including ore was more costly in Johnstown than coastal cities.

Johnstown’s supply of coal and a workforce to make value-added steel products helped offset that cost.

Johnstown still has a strong supply of coal, though apparently it won’t be needed with U.S. Steel’s new plans, said Cambria County Commissioner William “B.J.” Smith.

Smith worked in the county’s mines and mills when U.S. Steel, Bethlehem Steel and the area’s mines employed thousands. He said Cambria County has the best metallurgic coal in the world, but most of what will be used at the planned mill will be scrap steel.

The raw materials used to make steel in the past aren’t needed in the new process, he said.

“Now that they are using scrap steel, they will still need to have additives, but I don’t know what they will use,” he said.

U.S. Steel said in a press release that the planned mini-mill investment is a significant step toward achieving the company’s 2030 goal of reducing its global greenhouse gas emissions by 20% compared to a 2018 baseline, and positions the company to progress on its 2050 net zero carbon emission target.

Rep Frank Burns, D-East Taylor Township, said Johnstown’s rails will be an important selling point to U.S. Steel as it sorts through cities to build its mill.

“We have the rail to ship steel across the country, and we have the water supply to make steel,” he said. “And we have a workforce here. They may be a little older, but we have a workforce here that has produced steel in the past.”

U.S Steel hasn’t spelled out the details of what it’s looking for in a potential place to build, except to say “final site selection and other construction terms are subject to a number of factors, including state and local support and final approval by the U. S. Steel Board of Directors.”

The elected officials who gathered Friday at Rigby’s office passed around a draft letter to be sent to U.S. Steel. The letter encapsulates Johnstown’s history as a major 19th-century producer of iron and steel and stresses the countywide workforce that U.S. steel would draw from if it were to build its mill in Johnstown.

As co-chair of the state House Steel Caucus, Burns is positioned to get a foot in the door with the company. He said he is set to meet with company officials for a tour of its Pittsburgh facility on Oct. 1.

The leaders also hope to meet with Gov. Tom Wolf to ask for measures that would make Johnstown, and the state as a whole, more competitive with southern states where environmental permits for establishing the mill are granted more quickly, Rigby said.

After obtaining required environmental and operating permits, the company would expect to begin construction of the mini-mill in the first half of 2022, with production currently expected to begin in 2024, U.S. Steel said in its press release.

Johnstown Mayor Frank Janakovic said over the last few years Johnstown has been able to fund its pension funds, complete work with the water authority on improving the region’s sewage system, and for the past five years Johnstown’s finances have been healthy and in the black.

“Now we have the opportunity to bring more employment into to our city and a well-known manufacturer to our city,” he said. “And I think that would be the starting point to get us over the top here of where the city is headed.”

Russ O'Reilly is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @RussellOReilly.

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