By MICHAEL STRATFORD
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) â¿¿ The wraps came off Arkansas' largest ever economic development project Tuesday as Gov. Mike Beebe unveiled plans for a $1.1 billion steel mill along the Mississippi River that private investors are poised to build -- so long as legislators approve millions in startup funding.
Big River Steel, LLC, would employ 525 people at a new plant near Osceola if legislators approve $125 million in bond financing to be repaid over 20 years. If the Legislature rejects the pact, another state is poised to step in, Arkansas' economic development chief said, without specifying the state.
Mississippi County was hit hard after an Air Force base closed in the 1990s, and about one-third of its residents currently live in poverty. The mill's average salary would be $75,000 â¿¿ about double the state average â¿¿ and it would turn Mississippi County into the second-largest steel producing county in the country, Beebe said."It is an event that's going to bring a struggling Delta county out of the doldrums," Osceola Mayor Dickie Kennemore said. The facility will take scrap metal and reduce it back to steel, according to Arkansas Economic Development Director Grant Tennille. Nucor Corp. already operates a similar mill in Blytheville, and 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. The majority of the $125 million Beebe is proposing â¿¿ $75 million â¿¿ would be a grant to Blue River Steel for startup costs associated with building the facility. The remaining $50 million would be a loan the company would have to repay. Arkansas' total net cost of repaying the bonds would be about $5.1 million per year over 20 years, based on an estimated 3.7 or 3.8 percent interest rate, according to economic development officials.