It is understandable, if West Virginians are skeptical of big economic development announcements. In recent years, several have come with great fanfare, but with nothing to show for it.
The much-ballyhooed announcement in 2013 of a proposed petrochemical ethane cracker plant planned for Wood County never materialized. In 2017, Gov. Jim Justice announced an $84 billion investment by China Energy in shale gas development and manufacturing projects, but nothing has come of that.
That is not to say there haven’t been successes. Landing the Procter & Gamble production facility in Berkeley County was a huge “get” that will pay major economic benefits for years to come.
But when word leaks out about a potentially enormous investment in West Virginia by a steel company, it is reasonable that one would be hopeful but cautious.
Justice strongly hinted last week that something big was about to happen, and he encouraged West Virginians to tune in to his State of the State address Wednesday night for details, “because there’s going to be some more major, major announcements.”
It is believed that the Nucor Corp. steel and steel products company of Charlotte is planning to invest $2.7 billion in a state-of-the-art steel sheet mill in Mason County, with a smaller, secondary facility in the Northern Panhandle.
Nucor is North America’s largest recycler, with an emphasis on sustainability. The company’s annual report to shareholders states that CO2 emissions “are half of the global average on a per ton basis, and the energy intensity of our steelmaking process is about one-quarter the global average.”
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, while not specifically identifying the company, detailed the magnitude of the project during an appearance Monday on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” and the steps forward the Legislature is taking in special session to finalize the deal.
“We are here to consider the terms of an agreement that would potentially be the single-biggest announcement ever made, certainly in recent history of West Virginia — something on the order of 800 full-time jobs, something on the order of a thousand construction jobs, lasting upwards of a couple of years,” Hanshaw said.
Those terms include tax incentives and infrastructure investments that could total more than $300 million to secure the deal with Nucor, but we will learn more of the details in the coming days.
As a small state, West Virginia has difficulty competing in bidding wars with larger states when big companies are shopping around. However, it appears, in this case, part of West Virginia’s appeal is how quickly state government and its agencies can respond to the needs of the customer.
This investment would be a great boon for Mason County, the surrounding region and the entire state. Nucor is a longstanding, well-established company. It has been in business for 70 years and is the largest steel producer in the United States. It had more than $20 billion in sales last year and shipped over 25 million tons of steel.
The disappointments of some previous economic announcements invite caution, but the comments of Justice and Hanshaw, the swiftness with which the Legislature is moving on the incentive and tax package, and the history and strength of Nucor are all optimistic signs.