About 100 people work at the RG Steel headquarters' 12-story office building in downtown Wheeling. That number used to be as high as 300.
At the steel company's Yorkville plant there are 200 workers, while 100 employees remain at its Martins Ferry facility. Wheeling Corrugating, with locations around the county, maintains a work force of about 300.
The figures tell the story, according to RG Steel Controller Timothy S. Rogers. He was the guest speaker at the Wheeling Rotary Club's Tuesday meeting at WesBanco Arena. When the club was preparing to meet at noon, a power outage forced the group to eat and meet by candlelight for the first half of the session.
Photo by Heather Ziegler
RG Steel Controller Timothy S. Rogers addresses members of the Rotary Club of Wheeling on Tuesday at WesBanco Arena. Candles were placed on the table at the start of the meeting due to a power outage.
The darkened meeting room fit the tone of Rogers' talk, although he expressed hope that the local steel industry would see a rebound in the highly competitive steel market.
Overall, RG Steel is operating its various Ohio Valley facilities with about 1,000 workers. That number is down from the most recent "best of times," when about 2,500 steelworkers were employed under former owner Severstal, a Russian-owned company, Rogers said.
"When RG Steel took control of former Severstal in March, it put the local steel business back in American hands," Rogers said. "It was a package deal."
That $1.2 billion package deal for RG Steel's Wheeling Division includes steel facilities in Martins Ferry, Yorkville, Mingo Junction, Steubenville and Follansbee, in addition to the headquarters building in downtown Wheeling. R
G Steel also acquired steel plants in Warren, Ohio, and Sparrows Point, Md., as well as Wheeling Corrugating Co. and a 50 percent share in the Mountain State Carbon coke-making plant in Follansbee..
Rogers' overview of the newest owner noted RG Steel earnings have topped $5 billion. Ari Rennert is the president of the Renco Group Inc., thus the name RG Steel. The Renco Group also owns King's Jewelry, which was started in Wheeling in 1914. Other holdings include: U.S. Magnesium LLC in Salt Lake City, Utah; AM General in South Bend, Ind., which produced 270,000 Humvees; and Doe Run, a St. Louis-based metals plant that is the largest lead producer in the Northern Hemisphere.
RG Steel's annual steelmaking capacity is 2.4 million tons. Yearly its facilities can turn out 3.4 million tons of hot rolled sheet steel, 660,000 tons of cold rolled sheet product and 650,000 tons of galvanized sheet product.
But the depressed economy is not allowing that production to happen. Rogers said the Mingo Junction plant melted its last ton of steel in April 2009.
"When the economy took a turn, the market (for steel) collapsed," Rogers said. "Construction is not good. However, the future looks bright at the coke plant in Follansbee ... we maintain a 50 percent ownership of the coke plant with Severstal."
Rogers acknowledged that RG Steel offers a "new lease on life" for the steel facilities in the Ohio Valley as compared to when the previous Russian-based owners controlled the facilities.
"I think the Russians got worn out. They went through a long period of frustration. We have renewed energy. Steel prices have actually rebounded some, and we are getting customers back," he said.
Rogers complimented the local steelworkers for "hanging in there through difficult times." The steelworkers have not had a collective bargaining contract since 2003, and wages have not increased in the past four years for those steelworkers who have maintained their jobs.
Also during Tuesday's meeting, Robin Capehart, West Liberty University president, updated the Rotarians on several opportunities for area residents to learn more about the West Virginia gubernatorial candidates.
He noted that The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register are sponsoring a second candidate forum at 7 p.m. Thursday at West Virginia Northern Community College during which Democrat candidates will attend.
A similar forum sponsored by the newspapers was held Tuesday night with the Republican candidates.
Meanwhile, WLU will sponsor a roundtable discussion with the gubernatorial candidates from 10 a.m. to noon today and Thursday at Kelly Theater on the main campus.