(AP) — Gov. Mike Beebe on Tuesday unveiled Arkansas' largest ever economic development project, saying investors were poised to build a $1.1 billion steel mill along the Mississippi River if legislators approve startup funding.
Big River Steel LLC, to be located near Osceola, would employ 525 people with an average salary of $75,000 — twice the state average. Beebe said for the project to go forward, the Legislature must authorize $125 million in incentives and the plant must meet regulatory approval.
"It is an event that's going to bring the struggling Delta community out of the doldrums," Osceola Mayor Dickie Kennemore said.
The mill will turn Mississippi County into one of the nation's largest steel producers, Beebe said. Nucor Corp. already operates a mill at Blytheville, making steel from scrap metal. Since it opened in 1988, Mississippi County has seen its unemployment rate cut in half.
"This could do exactly the same thing again and then some," Beebe said at a news conference unveiling the plant.
Mississippi County has lost more than a third of its population since 1960, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures, and of the 7,600 who remain at Osceola, nearly a third of them are in poverty. While the job will be tough, wages will be beyond what many could have dreamed of without moving out of state, Beebe said.
"It's hot. It's dusty. It's not easy work," Beebe said.
Kennemore said the plant will transform lives.
"They'll be able to educate their kids, send their kids to college, feed their kids and have a quality of life and a self-esteem that they've never had before," he said.
The plant site is about 40 miles north of Memphis, Tenn., along the Mississippi River, a railroad line and Interstate 55. A major intermodal hub is at Marion, 30 miles away, where goods can be transported by barge, train or truck.
"Arkansas geographic location in the heart of the markets we intend to serve, the state's well-developed transportation infrastructure as well as the availability of reliable electrical power and the 'can do attitude' of the government officials in Little Rock, Mississippi County and Osceola make Arkansas a great place for Big River Steel to make its investment," Big River Steel CEO John Correnti said in a statement.
The plant will make steel for auto, oil and gas and electrical energy industries.