Tuesday, March 9, 2004

AK Steel hoping for help with Ashland mill

Kentucky Senate voting today on changes to industrial act

By Mike Boyer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

AK Steel is urging the Kentucky General Assembly to approve amendments to the commonwealth's Industrial Revitalization Act to aid a proposed $65 million investment in its Ashland steel mill.

The Kentucky Senate is scheduled to vote today on Senate Bill 248, which would raise the percentage of approved costs a company can recover under the revitalization act from 50 percent to 75 percent.

The bill was introduced Feb. 27 by Sen. Charlie Borders, R-Russell, and reported out of the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor committee last week.

If enacted into law, AK Steel, which is attempting to rebound from $1 billion in losses, said it would proceed with a long-discussed proposal to install a vacuum degassing facility at the Ashland mill's steel-making shop and make other modifications to the mill's continuous slab caster. If the project is approved, AK Steel said it could be in operation by next year.

The investment would allow the Ashland mill, which employs 1,220, to produce more-profitable low-carbon steel used in appliance and automotive finishes.

James L. Wainscott, AK Steel's president and CEO, thanked Gov. Fletcher, Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Gene Strong, legislators and the Ashland community for their support.

The Ashland project is one of a series of moves by Wainscott to reduce AK Steel's costs and improve its competitive position among U.S. steel companies.

In January, the company said it would go ahead with a $65 million investment in new environmental controls that would allow steel making to continue at its Middletown mill, maintaining about 1,000 jobs at the 100-year-old plant.

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft said the state would support that project with tax-exempt bond financing.

Alan McCoy, AK Steel spokesman, said he didn't know how much of the $65 million Ashland project cost would be covered by the increase in tax credit limits.

The Kentucky amendment grew out of meetings last fall between state elected officials, unions representing the Ashland hourly workers and AK Steel executives on how Kentucky could aid its steel-making operations, McCoy said.

The company said it also is seeking cost cuts from the United Steel Workers of America and the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy International Union, which represent hourly employees at the Ashland mill.

AK Steel has cut its salaried work force by 20 percent and is seeking similar concessions from all its employee unions as part of Wainscott's plan to restore the company to profitability.


Email mboyer@enquirer.com

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