Steel firm sells stake

The Port of Brownsville

U.S. Steel, the country’s second largest steel maker, has acquired a 49.9 percent ownership stake in Big River Steel, which is considering building a $1.6 billion steel mill at the Port of Brownsville.

The Brownsville facility would be Big River’s second flat-rolled steel mill. The first, in Osceola, Ark., began operations in early 2017. The company’s “Arkansas Flex Mill” is the world’s only LEED-certified steel mill and the newest and most technologically advanced flat-rolled mill in North America, according to BRS.

LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” The Brownsville plant would be the same size as the company’s “Arkansas Flex Mill” but would use even newer technology. The BRS-U.S. Steel deal aligns the two companies for future acquisition by including an option for U.S. Steel to acquire the remaining 50.1 percent of BRS.

In April 2018, BRS signed a lease option agreement with port commissioners for 800 acres on the Brownsville Ship Channel and S.H. 48. The following November, BRS CEO David Stickler confirmed in an interview with an industry publication that the company was indeed considering Brownsville for a second mill but was also looking at other locations on the Gulf Coast.

The plant would support about 500 new fulltime jobs with an average annual salary of $75,000, according to the company. In 2017, BRS announced that it would either build a second plant, possibly in Brownsville, or double the size of the Arkansas plant. Later the company decided to pursue both courses of action. Like the Arkansas mill, the main markets for the Brownsville facility would be the appliance, automotive and energy sectors.

Port Director and CEO Eduardo Campirano said the deal between BRS and U.S. Steel doesn’t affect the port’s chances of landing the mill.

“This acquisition should not have any bearing on our pursuit of Big River Steel,” he said. “We are still in the game.”

A spokesperson for the company stated that “Big River Steel remains keenly interested in the Port of Brownsville, and our early design and feasibility efforts continue unchanged.”

Stickler said in a press release that BRS’s early success has made possible the company’s project to double production capacity at its original mill, and that the investment by U.S. Steel will make it easier for BRS to make even higher quality electrical steel, “demand for which is expected to increase with continued focus on energy efficiency and the increase in hybrid and electric vehicle sales.”