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
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.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley told The Associated Press that he believes the
new owners will bring stability to the plant and secure existing jobs.
“It is a brighter future,” he said.
While ThyssenKrupp relies on supplies from Brazil, the new owners plan to
use that country, Mexico and the United States, which should help their
costs, Bentley said. And he said the plan to produce for the auto market
Scott Posey, a spokesman for the plant, said the deal is expected to be
finalized sometime next year, “dependent upon all the necessary regulatory
In an emailed statement, Posey said the future of the plant looks good.
Although ThyssenKrupp is leaving Alabama, it is leaving behind the world’s
most-advanced processing facility, he wrote.
“We believe the ArcelorMittal/Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation
consortium’s interest in buying our facility is confirming its future value
to the NAFTA steel industry and securing our 1,600-plus local jobs and
continued economic impact in Alabama for generations to come,” Posey said.
Because operations at the mill will continue, state and local officials say
the millions of dollars in subsidies provided to the company to attract the
plant to the region remain a good investment.
"We fully expect development around the mill to continue. In fact, we think
there has been some hesitancy by companies because they didn’t know who the
new owners would be and now I think we will see even more projects related
to the steel mill,” said Troy Wayman, vice president of economic development
for the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.
Local officials agree.
Marceria Ludgood, a Mobile County commissioner who represents the area, said
that for people outside the mill, the only noticeable change might be the
German flag that flies above the plant now being taken down and another flag
“I have very high expectations and high hopes for what will happen there.
The company that is purchasing it has very solid relationships in the
automotive industry and I think this will open up even more opportunity for
other, related businesses to come in,” she said.
Ludgood said she and other local leaders were worried when rumors of the
plant being sold first surfaced.
“But we didn’t think they would abandon a facility that was the most-modern
anywhere and cost so much to build,” she said.
“It is nice though to have it settled,” she said.
Convenience store clerk Angel Powell chatted with a steady stream of regular
customers on a recent afternoon. Powell credits the mill for her job at the
new store just outside the mill, which she says has been a boon for the
“All I can say is that I hope it stays open, but I cannot see why it
wouldn’t,” she said. “It has been a good thing for this entire area.”