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Teacher Retirement Fund Plans Big River Steel Buy

By CHUCK BARTELS

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) â¿¿ The Arkansas Teacher Retirement System hopes to invest $60 million in the $1 billion Big River Steel LLC mill planned for Osceola, officials announced Wednesday.

George Hopkins, executive director of the Teacher Retirement system, said the fund's staff and a consultant spent about six months looking at the venture and concluded it's a strong project. Trustees meet Monday to vote on whether to go ahead with the investment, which would represent one-half of 1 percent of the $12.25 billion fund.

The investment would be contingent on the Legislature's approval of a $125 million loan to help finance the mill project, which also would have to clear regulatory hurdles.

The Legislature has 20 working days to vote on a measure once members are presented legislation. House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, said he expects to get a bill within a week or two and he's looking for ways to speed the process.

"We're contemplating how do we form some joint, small group to start before it (the bill) gets in committee," Carter said Wednesday.

With no approval delays, construction could start in the summer and the mill could be turning out steel less than two years later.

It's the kind of project leaders in the Delta have struggled to attract.

Mississippi County has struggled since Eaker Air Force Base closed in 1992, losing one fifth of its population in the following two decades. Among the 46,000 people who remain, 9.3 percent are unemployed and a third of them live in poverty.

Big River Steel is led by John Correnti, a former Nucor Steel executive who engineered the 2007 launch of a successful $650 million steel mill at Columbus, Miss. Correnti says the Osceola mill will have more than 500 positions that pay $75,000 annually and will employ 2,000 construction workers.

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