(Missourinet news director Brian Hauswirth traveled to New Madrid on Monday and Tuesday and to Portageville and Kennett on Tuesday to follow-up on this summer’s Missouri legislative special session. Brian is updating listeners on-air and online this week, and also plans a more in-depth series for later)

PORTAGEVILLE, Mo.- A key state lawmaker says a steel mill owner from India has visited southeast Missouri’s New Madrid County multiple times.

State Rep. Don Rone (right) speaks to Missourinet’s Brian Hauswirth at Katie’s Diner in Portageville on November 14, 2017 (Ashley Byrd photo)

State Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, says New Madrid County remains in the running for a steel mill, which he says would provide about 165 initial jobs.

The Portageville Republican is expecting a decision by the end of December.

“He (the steel mill owner) has been here three times,” Rone says. “Made numerous trips to both (potential location) sites, looked at the port, looked at the infrastructure that we have here that’s available to him.”

Rone, the House sponsor of this summer’s bill aimed at creating hundreds of new jobs in the impoverished New Madrid area, tells Missourinet the steel mill owner would have never considered Missouri, unless the Legislature approved right-to-work and the ability to negotiate electricity rates.

Rone says there will be a ripple effect if the steel mill plant is built here, and says that ripple effect would include new homes being built in area towns like Caruthersville, Sikeston and Hayti.

The former Portageville Mayor says the closing of the former Noranda smelter in New Madrid has been devastating to the entire region.

About 900 people lost their jobs in New Madrid when the smelter closed in 2016.

300 of those employees lived in Representative Rone’s sprawling district, which includes Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot and Scott counties.

“Just this (Tuesday) morning I was talking to a gentleman that his son was working at Noranda,” says Rone. “He’s now in Virginia. He’s in Petersburg, Virginia and he took five people with him.”

Rone emphasizes those five families have left New Madrid County, because of the closing. He says some of them would like to return here, because this is their home.

Rone tells Missourinet Switzerland-based Magnitude 7 has purchased the smelter in bankruptcy, adding they were the only potential buyer that didn’t want to shut it down.

He’s hopeful the smelter can reopen before January 1, with about 300 jobs.

Rone describes the smelter employees who were laid off as “salt of the earth people” who want to work.

Rone says the average household income has dropped by $6,000 in New Madrid County, since the smelter closed.