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Teacher Retirement Fund Plans Big River Steel Buy

This week's announcement of the project at the state Capitol with Gov. Mike Beebe had a celebratory tone but also carried a note of caution, considering the necessary legislative action, which would require a majority of legislators to vote in favor of the state taking on debt.

Carter has stopped short of predicting passage, saying instead that legislators have to go through the due diligence process.

As Osceola waits, it has a model to follow on the other side of Mississippi County, which used its river and rail transit access to develop a steel industry. Nucor Yamato Steel has been a success story in neighboring Blytheville and is part of the reason the county's unemployment rate isn't in double digits.

Osceola's biggest employers include a greeting card plant, American Greetings, which has about 1,300 people on staff, and Denso Manufacturing, where about 400 workers make heavy machinery radiators and automobile air conditioners and heaters.

The last major project in town was construction of the Plum Point Energy Station, a 655-megawatt coal-fired electric generation plant.

Harry Keatts opened his downtown Osceola restaurant, the Sandbar Grille, when that plant was being built. Having the extra construction workers in town helped the business get off to a good start, he said. But then the local economy returned to normal.

"Things here in the Delta have been dire for many years," he said. "Just keeping the restaurant open has been a challenge."

Between the city's population drop and temporary housing that was made available to the Plum Point workers, the city can easily accommodate 2,000 temporary construction workers.

"And they like to eat," Keatts said.

Amarjit Singh, owner of the Deerfield Motel in Osceola, said he's also eager for another construction boom.

"We made a lot of money when (Plum Point) was being built. We were about bankrupt and the Plum Point saved us," he said.

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