(This is the third in a four-part series from Missourinet’s Brian Hauswirth, examining the poverty in southeast Missouri and the possibility of the region getting a steel mill)
NEW MADRID, Mo.- “PUT THESE PEOPLE BACK TO WORK!!”
“It will have a huge impact on the economy of SEMO!”
“SEMO needs jobs!! Make it happen Governor Greitens. We need it union or not.”
“Hope doesn’t pay bills.”
Those are just four messages posted by some of the 13,800 people who have watched our steel mill interview with New Madrid city administrator Richard McGill, on the Missourinet Facebook page.
In part three of our series, we highlight the widespread hope we discovered this month across southeast Missouri, for new industry.
New vehicle sales at New Madrid’s Martindale Chevrolet are down by 50 percent, since the Noranda smelter closed in 2016.
General manager Mark Kolwyck is optimistic and hopeful a proposed steel mill will be built in New Madrid.
“It would be a divine intervention if they, in my opinion, if they announce the steel mill before Christmas,” Kolwyck says. “It would be great.”
Kolwyck tells Missourinet six of his customers and relatives are driving to other states for work, since the smelter closed.
State Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, expects a decision from the steel mill owner by January 1.
An alderman in New Madrid says city officials are working hard to bring industry to the area. Alderman Nick White works with Mr. Kolwyck at Martindale Chevrolet, which is the only franchise car dealership in town.
White is hopeful a steel mill will be built in the impoverished community.
“The people, they’re not looking for a handout, they’re not looking for the government to, you know, support them for the rest of their lives or anything,” says White. “They want to work, they want good-paying jobs so they can support their families.”
900 people lost their jobs when the smelter closed, and the average household income in New Madrid County has plunged by $6,000 since the closing.
One person who was laid off was White’s father, who worked at Noranda for 25 years.
White says the closing has had a devastating impact on the region.
Meantime, further south near the Arkansas border, the veteran news director at Missourinet Kennett affiliate KBOA Radio (AM 1540) says some Bootheel residents have lost their homes and cars, since the smelter closed.
Charles Isbell’s studio sits next to a cotton field, just eight miles from the Arkansas state line. Isbell is hopeful a steel mill will be built in New Madrid, and is also hopeful that the smelter can re-open.
“It would be a tremendous benefit not only to New Madrid County, but also to Dunklin and Pemiscot and surrounding counties in west Tennessee and northeast Arkansas,” Isbell says. “To get jobs back in that smelter and in that steel mill.”
The smelter is located in the sprawling St. Jude Industrial Park in New Madrid. The 4,200 acre industrial park is fully-developed with all services, including electricity, gas, water, sewer, roads, rail and a Mississippi River dock.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, discussed the issue on the House floor during the May special session in Jefferson City. Speaker Richardson says that’s an appropriate location, since St. Jude is the patron saint of hope and impossible causes.
Missouri lawmakers overwhelmingly approved bipartisan legislation during that special session, aimed at creating hundreds of jobs in the Bootheel.
The state senator who represents the Bootheel is also hopeful the former Noranda smelter can re-open, and is also hopeful about the steel mill.
State Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, says President Donald Trump (R) understands that American manufacturing “has been under attack.”
“I think just the fact that we have a new president that seems to understand business means a lot to me, being a business guy for 46 years now,” says Libla. “And who also understands international trade.”
Libla says Chinese unfair trading practices, known as “dumping”, hurt Noranda.
New Madrid city administrator McGill tells Missourinet he’s hopeful of landing the steel mill, which he says would create 170 immediate jobs.