LITTLE ROCK A $1.1 billion steel mill that will create hundreds of high-paying jobs is planned for Mississippi County, officials announced Tuesday.
Gov. Mike Beebe unveiled details of the "superproject" Tuesday morning, joining state leaders, economic development officials and company executives to announce The Big River Steel plant is coming to Osceola. The facility, which could begin construction as early as August, will create 525 jobs with an average salary of $75,000 as well as about 2,000 construction jobs, Beebe said.
Beebe said suppliers and customers are expected to create even more jobs in the region.
"And so it's a pretty big deal to put in a vernacular of my son," he said. "It's a pretty big deal."
The deal has been preliminarily reached, but still must be approved by the legislature. It is contingent on lawmakers approving a $125 million bond issue that includes a $50 million loan.
Big Steel Chief Executive Officer John Correnti said the utilities in the area coupled with its proximity to the Mississippi River, railroads and interstate makes it ideal.
"This site, if you go see it, it's steel mill heaven," he said.
Big River will produce steel for the automotive, oil and gas, and electric energy industries, and mill construction will take about 20 months after the groundbreaking, the company said in a statement.
Correnti said the economic impact would be felt immediately. He said a previous investment elsewhere spurred a 17.2 percent increase in the city's sales-tax receipts on the first day of construction.
"It's amazing what 2,000 construction workers can do," he said with a smile. "They eat a lot and drink a lot of beer."
Osceola Mayor Dickie Kennemore said other companies with superproject-level interests have looked at his city and region and ultimately passed. Not this time.
"This time we've won the prize," he said, noting that it would draw his "struggling" county "out of the doldrums."
"This dog has got the bone," he said.
Mississippi Coutny Judge Randy Carney called Correnti his "new best friend" and said his first response to hearing about the potential project two years ago was "wow."
"Today my response is, 'wow.'" In two years, my response is going to be, 'wow.' In 25 years, my response is going to be, 'wow,'" he said.
Beebe said he is "real confident" that the deal with go through but noted the legislative and regulatory approval are hurdles still to be cleared. Legislative leaders President Pro Tempore Michael Lamoureux and House Speaker Davy Carter appeared beside Beebe at the news conference but didn't speak during it.
Under Amendment 82, the legislature can approve up to 5 percent of the state’s general revenue for infrastructure and other costs involved with major economic development projects.
After the news conference, Carter said legislators intend to look very closely at the deal and the bond issue before voting.
"I'm bullish on the idea and the company, but we've got a long ways to go on doing our own homework and our own due diligence and going through the process," he said. "It is a lot of money and I can promise you we will take it very, very seriously in the House."
Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said he told Carter and Lamoreux that he is "proud of this deal."
"I think once they have the time to go through it, once they perform their due diligence and their function as required by Amendement 82, that I think they're going to be proud of the deal as well," he said, "and that we will be able to turn to the rest of both bodies and say this is the right deal for the state of Arkansas."
More than 100 people crowded into Beebe's large conference room at the north end of the Capitol for the formal announcement, including Lt. Gov. Mark Darr and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.
Beebe talked in general about the deal in his State of the State address earlier this month, calling it one of the largest economic-development projects in the state's history.
In subsequent interviews, the governor declined to go into specifics, saying final details still needed to be finalized but closing the deal would create "a bunch" of jobs. A superproject is defined as one that creates at least 500 jobs and at least $500 million in investments.
Economic-development officials told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Monday that the $1 billion deal will make the project the largest single investment in Arkansas’ history.
Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.
Arkansas Online reporter David Harten contributed to this story.