The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

December 26, 2013

Massive south Alabama steel plant sold

CALVERT, Ala. (AP) — When German steel manufacture ThyssenKrupp began construction of its $5 billion plant just down the road from Webbs Cafe in 2007, business boomed as construction crews poured into the area to build the most-modern steel production factory in the Americas.

Three generations of the Webb family have operated the cafe, which specializes in fried catfish and home cooking and is well-known throughout this bucolic stretch of southeast Alabama.

News that ThyssenKrupp planned to sell the mill just five years later sent a ripple through the region, which depended on well-paying jobs related to the mill throughout the economic downturn.

But word this month that the German company has reached an agreement with ArcelorMittal and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. to sell the plant for an estimated $1.55 billion, seemed to quell concerns at Webbs Cafe and elsewhere in this tight-knit town just outside the gates of the mill.

"I don't sense much fear about the future of the mill. Everyone just wants them to hurry up and finish the deal," said Vanessa Barnett, the latest member of the Webb family to run the cafe.

As she prepared for her noontime rush on a recent weekday, Barnett said people feel reassured that operations at the mill will continue.

"There has been a lot of talk and speculation about what happened and why they decided to sell, but not about it shutting down," she said.

ThyssenKrupp has said its plan to import steel slabs from its plant in Brazil fell apart because of the recession and increasing production costs in Brazil.

The deal still has to pass regulatory scrutiny, but local and state officials say it looks good. The new owners have a business plan that hinges in part on supplying the recovering U.S. automobile industry.

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