A steel plant that has been a fixture in the center of Georgetown for decades will close its doors for good this summer.
Luxembourg-based ArcellorMittal announced Thursday that it has given the required 90 days notice that it will close the Georgetown wire rod facility in the third quarter of this year. The closure will impact 226 jobs, the company says.
The company’s CEO blamed “unfairly traded steel imports” from China and other countries as one of the reasons for the plant’s closure, saying the cheap Chinese steel undercuts their own business. ““Despite our joint efforts and a highly productive workforce, the facility has incurred significant losses… due to high input costs and imports,” ArcelorMittal Long Carbon North America CEO P.S. Venkat said in a statement. “Georgetown is a very productive plant, making 300,000 tons of product per year with fewer than 200 full-time ArcelorMittal employees — that’s about 1,500 tons per worker. Imports have really been damaging to the Georgetown facility, and the business overall.”
The company said it’s been forced to take a deeper look at all USA operations to make it more efficient and competitive in the steel market.
The plant, which has been prominently located on the Georgetown harbor since 1969, makes wire rods used in construction. It is perhaps best known for supplying the steel cable for the Arthur Ravenel Bridge in Charleston.
The news comes down hard for the 173 unionized United Steel Workers who worked at the plant, according to USW Local 7898 President James Sanderson, Jr. “It was a total surprise, caught us off-guard,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “We were very concerned. It’s very devastating.”
He also criticized the Chinese imports, complaining that Congress is still moving to approve further trade agreements despite the impact on American manufacturing. “No job in manufacturing is really safe,” he said. “And the people in this country should be demanding that the jobs in America should be our concern.”
Sanderson said a typical severance package previously negotiated by the union includes a percentage of their pay based on years of service, supplemental unemployment benefits worth up to 80 percent of their salary (SUB-Pay), insurance for the next 30 months, and the option to transfer to any other ArcellorMittal USA facility.
The Georgetown County Economic Development agency said it would work with the company to find new jobs for the laid-off employees.
“Many of these employees have considerable experience and very sought-after skill sets. Even prior to today’s announcement, we have been working with a number of our existing industries on expansion plans,” the agency posted on its Facebook page. “These expansions all include additional jobs, and many of the impacted ArcelorMittal employees have the skills and experience to provide an immediate benefit to our other industries.”
The former Georgetown Steel Mill shut down once in 2003 before it was purchased by International Steel Group and reopened two years later. Through a series of acquisitions and mergers, it eventually became part of ArcellorMittal by the end of the decade. The company idled the plant for two years from 2009-2011 as sales plummeted following the recent recession.