Published: Friday, June 1, 2007
Former Copperweld Steel mill to reopen
The mill is looking to add 40 to 50 workers.
By ED RUNYAN
CHAMPION It's not the Copperweld Steel of old, but the start of Warren Steel Holdings LLC on the former Copperweld site represents a significant investment and a hopeful sign for the once-bustling mill, one local official said.
Reid Dulberger, executive vice president of the Regional Chamber, said the amount of work that has taken place at the Mahoning Avenue facility in the past year has been remarkable. The land is in Warren Township.
A great deal of investment took place to get the melt shop and never-used continuous steel caster into operating shape, following closure of the mill in 2001 after Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Dulberger said.
Not only did a great deal of the machinery need to be refurbished, but much of the wiring inside the plant had to be replaced because it had been removed by thieves, who sold its copper, he said.
"I think we all believed that site would be vacant and the community would be left with another brownfield site to deal with," Dulberger said of 2001, when the Privat Group of the Ukraine bought the facilities and 400 acres. "At the time of the auction, it appeared there would never be steel made there again," he said.
Ron Bidula, the plant's manager, said the approximately 100 workers at the mill are in the final phases of testing the mill's capabilities. He expects to begin producing steel billets sometime soon, but wouldn't give an exact date.
The company attempted to reopen the mill last summer and hired employees. But that effort fell through when a partner of the Privat Group moved on, Dulberger said. Most of the workers were let go.
Workers were hired again this spring, and Bidula estimates an additional 40 to 50 workers are still needed.
Dulberger said Bidula, a 40-year veteran of the steel industry, has done a great job.
"They have a very good group in place to restart the operation," Dulberger said. "It was closed for several years, and ... [reopening] is a very difficult thing to do."
He added that Bidula and his staff have worked well with the state of Ohio to bring the plant in line with water and pollution standards.
The steel will be sent to customers who will turn it into seamless tubing, such as that used in the oil and gas drilling industry.
Also operating at the former Copperweld site is Ohio Star Forge, on the Champion Township side of the property. Ohio Star Forge is a steel fabricating company employing 70 to 80 people on a 10-acre site.
Two other operations
Dulberger noted that the opening of Warren Steel Holdings gives the Mahoning Valley a third steel-making operation, joining Warren Consolidated Industries on Pine Avenue in Warren and V&M Star on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Youngstown.
Warren Steel Holdings is more like V&M Star, Dulberger said, because they are both specialty steel operations that make their products from scrap. WCI makes its products from raw materials.
Copperweld Steel, later known as CSC Ltd., employed 1,120 steelworkers just before it closed in 2001.
CSC was unable to survive a downturn in the steel market that came just as it completed a $100 million upgrade. The key to the improvement was the installation of a continuous caster and melt shop.
Bidula has said those improvements are what made the plant attractive to investors. The Privat Group paid $6 million for the CSC melt shop and continuous caster and $1.2 million for the 400-acre site.
Andy Barkley, vice president of member services at the Greater Warren Credit Union next door to the mill, said the reopening of the mill is additional good news for the area around the credit union, which was formerly known as Copperweld Steel Federal Credit Union. It started as a financial institution for Copperweld employees.
The addition of jobs at Ohio Star Forge and Leedsworld, a short distance away on North River Road, have helped boost employment.
"From a community standpoint and a business standpoint, it's positive news," said Barkley, also a Warren councilman.
Barkley said the credit union has seen some new customers from Warren Steel Holdings and hopes to establish a relationship with the new company similar to the one it had with Copperweld Steel.
Gary Steinbeck, subdistrict director of the United Steelworkers union for northeast Ohio, said there is no union contract in place at the facility and he had not discussed the issue with Bidula.