STEALING THE SHOW: Arkansas becoming the Steel State | KLRT

OSCEOLA, Ark. — Arkansas’ small town of Osceola is stealing the show.

Located on the other side of the Mississippi River across from Tennessee lies the town of 7,000, which should be called Steel City.

On February 8, 2022, U.S. Steel announced that it will build ‘the steel mill of the future’ in Osceola.

“I think we’ve won the mega-billion lottery with this,” Mayor of Osceola Sally Wilson said enthusiastically. 

According to mayor Wilson, Osceola is the perfect place for the 6.3-million-ton mega mill that will produce three million tons of steel a year.

“This is a county that knows a lot about making steel and how to make it right, how to make it more efficient, the most efficient way to make it,” Wilson added. “It’s exciting for us all.”

This $3 billion mill is the largest single project investment in the state’s history. Once construction wraps up in 2024, Arkansas will surpass Pennsylvania as the country’s No. 1 steel producer.

“Did I ever think it would be this explosive and we could say that once US Steel is online that we’d have the No. 1 steel-producing county in the country? Yeah, that’s pretty lofty,” Arkansas Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said. “I’m pleased with the success that we’ve had.”

This will be the most advanced steel mill in the U.S. and the second mill in Osceola and the fourth in Mississippi county.

In 2014, Osceola broke ground on its $1.2 billion Big River steel mill, which is now owned by U.S. Steel. That mill started the trend of environmentally friendly steel mills.

“It’s going to be a green-certified steel mill,” County judge of Mississippi County John Nelson said.

The steel industries in Mississippi county are the number one recycler in the country. Why? Because they produce all of its steel from recycled goods.

“To have U.S. Steel, which is the top dog in the steel industry, to come here in Mississippi county is very exciting,” Nelson added. “We went from the largest cotton-producing region in the country to the largest steel-producing region in the country.”

At its peak, Mississippi County had a population of 83-85,000. It is currently at 43,000. Its population was nearly cut in half because of the change in agriculture where technology took over jobs.

“As those changes took place, we were losing a lot of our industrial jobs,” Nelson said. “Our county leaders formed a foundation that did something in the county that has never been done. We’ve been in this business now for over 25 years and it is finally paying off.”

That would be the county’s economic development tax that has been in place for a quarter of a century.

“The foundation, those members volunteer their time to research projects and bring industry in and then that money is requested from the county and is used for that purpose,” Nelson said. “I think the population is certainly going to increase. We’re doing everything we can here to bolster that. We’re looking for additional changes as time moves on.”

The new mill is bringing 900 jobs with it that pay a minimum of $100,000 dollars. Mayor Wilson is thankful that Mississippi County is involved because she admits it’s a project a little too big for a town of 7,000.

“It’s good to have the entire county in with all of this,” Wilson said. “It’ll benefit the county, all the county, all the state. It’s a big project, it’s big for all of us. Of course, we’re going to take care of Osceola first and our needs first.”

Obviously, getting this mill to a small Arkansas town wasn’t easy and came with plenty of competition. When U.S. Steel started its search for the mill’s home it began with 40 different sites from 14 different states.

“We didn’t get a phone call about the project until they narrowed it down to five states,” Preston said. “At that point they called and said we’re one of the five and they’re filing an air permit in our state along with the other four. This just showed how quickly they wanted to move.”

The top three candidates came down to Arkansas, Alabama, and Mississippi. However, Osceola’s close access to its river, railroad, and highway systems.

“Well, I think the Mississippi River is one,” Nelson said. “The interstate and the railroad system. The number of utilities here. We have a combination that is ideal for the industry.”

Once completed the new mill will help Osceola, Mississippi County, and the state of Arkansas grow in many different ways. According to Preston, this addition will attract lots of new businesses to come to the Natural State like: construction, battery manufacturing and automobile industries.

“There are a ton of uses for steel that puts us front and center in the supply chain,” Preston said. “People want to be located close to a mill like that.”

Thanks to the new mill, this small Arkansas town is now dreaming big.

“This is an exciting time for Osceola. All I can say is come to Osceola and grow with us. Come be a part of this excitement.”

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