After a year of layoffs and mine closures in northeast Minnesota that occurred while the U.S. steel industry grappled with a historic downturn, the Iron Range celebrated a piece of good news Thursday. Gov. Mark Dayton and other state leaders were on hand as Cliffs Natural Resources broke ground on a $65 million expansion at its United Taconite plant in Forbes.
The upgrades will allow Cliffs to produce a new specialty iron ore pellet it calls the “Mustang” pellet, which will supply North America’s largest steel blast furnace at the Indiana Harbor facility outside Chicago, operated by the steelmaker Arcelor Mittal.
In May, Cliffs announced a new 10-year supply contract with Arcelor Mittal. The new pellet, which will begin production in March 2017, replaces a pellet produced at the Empire Mine in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which Cliffs closed earlier this month when the mine ran out of ore.
“With our Mustang pellet contract, our future looks a lot brighter than it did a year ago,” said United Steelworkers Local 6860 union president Brian Zarn. “We’re going to have a wider market, we’re going to have a more versatile and valuable pellet, so that’s all we can ask for.”
Cliffs brought back all of United Taconite’s roughly 450 employees this week. The mine in Eveleth and pellet plant in Forbes had been shut down for about a year, as U.S. steelmakers — the customers who purchase Cliffs’ iron ore pellets to make steel–struggled against a tide of imported, illegally subsidized steel.
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