(This is the second in a three-part series from Missourinet’s Brian Hauswirth, examining the poverty in southeast Missouri and the possibility of the region getting a steel mill)
PORTAGEVILLE, Mo.- A southeast Missouri lawmaker is expecting a final decision from a steel mill owner by the end of December.
Missourinet spent three days in southeast Missouri earlier this month, visiting towns like Portageville, New Madrid and Sikeston to speak to local officials, state lawmakers, business owners and residents about the region’s high poverty and its hopes for new industry.
For part two of this series, Missourinet traveled to Portageville and New Madrid to speak to leaders and residents about the steel mill’s status, and the former Noranda smelter.
State Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, hopes a proposed steel mill can break ground in the spring of 2018.
Rone says the steel mill owner has traveled from India to New Madrid three times.
“The steel mill is, I would say on track,” Rone says. “We should know something by the first of the year from the gentleman from India.”
Meantime, the city administrator in impoverished New Madrid is hopeful of landing the steel mill.
Richard McGill confirms New Madrid is a finalist for the mill, and also says the steel mill owner has visited the town three times.
“What we’ve done locally is really show support, even from the community,” says McGill. “Not just what the city or the county is offering him (the steel mill owner), but the community support has been shown to him, and that’s very important.”
McGill tells Missourinet the mill would create 170 immediate jobs.
He also says the steel mill could have a second phase, with another 170 jobs.
Governor Eric Greitens (R) notes nine of the state’s ten poorest counties are in southeast Missouri.
900 people lost their jobs when the Noranda smelter closed in 2016, and 23 percent of New Madrid County residents are living in poverty.
The Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS) reports 4,052 of New Madrid County’s 18,900 residents received food stamps in September, which is the last month numbers are available.
Rone tells Missourinet that Bootheel residents “will rush” to get off of welfare, if the steel mill is built in New Madrid or if the former Noranda smelter re-opens.
Representative Rone also hopes to see Switzerland-based Magnitude 7 re-open the former Noranda smelter in New Madrid by the end of December.
He says Magnitude 7 was the only potential buyer that didn’t want to close the smelter.
“And if everything goes right, they will have 300-and-something jobs hopefully before the first of the year. That’s one pot line and the rod and wire mill starting back up,” Rone says.
Four of Missouri’s five highest counties with free and reduced school lunch participation rates are in Rone’s legislative district:
** Pemiscot County: 81.9 percent
** Mississippi County: 78.9 percent
** Scott County: 78.5 percent
** Dunklin County: 78.2 percent
Those statistics come from a report from a group called “Empower Missouri”. The report is called the “2016 State of the State Poverty in Missouri.”
McGill says landing a steel mill or re-opening the former Noranda smelter would provide the region with a significant economic boost.
“These people want to work,” says McGill. “They don’t want to continue to live in poverty. And as one of the poorest counties in the state, we need jobs.”
McGill tells Missourinet that, like Rone, he expects a decision from the steel mill owner by December 31.
The common theme that we heard numerous times during our Bootheel trip was “hope.” Missourinet will profile that hope in part three of our series, which will be published on Tuesday.
Click here to listen to the full interview between Missourinet’s Brian Hauswirth and State Rep. Don Rone, which was recorded on November 14, 2017 at Katie’s Diner in Portageville: