ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Murray Energy continues to invest heavily in the local area, with plans to spend more than $200 million over the next three years in local operations.
The company is investing in a new preparation plant and new slope and conveyor belt at American Energy Corp.'s Century Mine near Beallsville. This should allow the company to hire new employees, company officials have said.
Even with much of the Upper Ohio Valley focused on development of the Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas and oil reserves lately, Murray's investments are letting residents know that coal is still a valuable commodity - and that Murray is committed to the Upper Ohio Valley.
Coal miners leave Murray Energy Corp.’s Century Mine following a recent shift underground. The mine and several other local industries are taking leadership roles in the community through continued investment and job creation.
Murray - the parent company of American Energy Corp.'s Century Mine, Ohio Valley Coal Co.'s Powhatan No. 6 mine and OhioAmerican Energy Inc.'s Red Bird West mine - has consolidated a number of offices into a new, four-story corporate headquarters outside St. Clairsville.
The new office structure houses the corporation's central operating, engineering, maintenance, geologic, purchasing, accounting, information systems, environmental and sales staff. Many of those operations previously were located in the company's central office in the Cleveland suburb of Pepper Pike, Ohio.
At the Century mine, excavation of the slope was completed in late September. The installation of $14.6 million in slope infrastructure, including 3,160 feet of 84-inch slope belting, 1,580 feet of 84-inch belt structure, one 8,000 horsepower belt drive, and one coal stacker, is ongoing at this time, company officials said.
Murray expects the new slope to be operational in July.
Murray Energy will invest more than $200 million in the local area over the next three years: $75 million this year; $58.5 million in 2014; and $69.2 million in 2015.
This will include expenditures for additional ventilation shafts; power substations; longwall face conveyors; longwall shearers; underground personnel carriers; longwall shields; high voltage cable for underground power extension; continuous mining machines; roof bolting machines; and other underground mining equipment, Murray officials said.
This will allow Murray Energy to maintain the more than 1,500 direct jobs they provide in Eastern Ohio, and to create additional employment opportunities over the next three years.
At Wheeling-Nisshin in Brooke County, the company on track to have its new corrosion-resistant, hot dip coated steel sheet line in production by the end of the year.
The company is spending $28 million on the upgrades. While the new product line will only maintain the status quo in terms of jobs now, over time company and community leaders hope to see the workforce grow because of it.
"We consider it a big thing," said Wheeling-Nisshin Human Resource Manager Nick Cortese. "We are looking at the first couple weeks in May to do a non-commercial trial. It would be a very short trial, because there is still other work that has to be done to complete the project. The target is, and has always been, to start the commercial run late in November of this year."
The new coating, known as ZAM, was developed by Wheeling-Nisshin's parent company, Nisshin Steel Co. Ltd. It's 91 percent zinc, 6 percent aluminum and 3 percent magnesium, so it's long-lasting, more resistant to corrosion and scratches and thus can help customers streamline manufacturing processes. A relatively light coating is all that's needed, so it's also a resource-saving product.
"The project is pretty much on target from our initial planning stage," Cortese said. "There've been a few changes, but nothing drastic ."
While they're still "very much in the preliminary stages" in terms of building product buzz, so far "the feedback has been very positive," he said.
"That's our objective here, in the next several months," Cortese added, "to try to get information, samples, to as many potential customers as possible."
So far, he said the project hasn't impacted current operations.
"There are certain aspects of the project that have been worked on at the same time as the line that that particular project is going on has been running," he said. "But other phases of the installation have to be done when the line is down, and we typically take our lines down once per quarter for various maintenance. Probably the next outage will be a little longer than normal because of ZAM-related changes."
For now, he said the company is stepping up its marketing efforts. This week, Wheeling-Nisshin named Art Bertol, employed at Wheeling-Nisshin since 1987, the general manager of ZAM marketing, a new position.
Brian Petrella was promoted to assistant general manager commercial, while Jonathan Deyton was promoted to supply chain buyer.
Cortese called it an "investment for the future."
"Hopefully (it will lead to) an expansion of our market share," he said. "We've been here for 25 years, certainly we want to be here for at least another 25."
In Weirton, seasoned steelworkers at the ArcelorMittal steel plant are passing their craft on to a younger workforce.
Mark Glyptis, president of United Steelworkers Local 2911, said he is optimistic about the new direction of ArcelorMittal's tin mill, the only remnant of the former Weirton Steel Corp. The plant's 1,000-man workforce represents less than one-tenth of its former roll call of more than 14,000 employees.
"We have gone from an integrated steel configuration to a tin finishing operation only," he said. "We have a very good order book that is running well. Our goal is to become the top tin producer in North America and compete among the top tin producers in the world."
The Weirton facility's primary product is tin plate used in food cans.
A healthy order book is not all that has Glyptis feeling good about ArcelorMittal's future in Weirton.
"We have an excellent workforce here," he said. "Many are third generation steelworkers. Their average age is 59 years old. They have 35 to 50 years of service. They know how to make good tinplate and they are willing to pass that knowledge on to the new hires coming in. It's quite refreshing to see new faces in the mill working alongside our seasoned employees."
Glyptis said ArcelorMittal may hire up to 100 new employees this year to replace the 60 or so that will be retiring and to match the workforce with the order book.
'What we do here is an art and our seasoned workers are anxious to teach the new employees how it is done," he said.