Gov. DeWine, officials praise Cleveland-Cliffs $1 billion iron plant

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Jun. 10—With Gov. Mike DeWine on his left and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur on his right, Cleveland-Cliffs Chairman, President, and CEO Lourenco Goncalves sliced a big blue ribbon Wednesday to mark the official opening of his company's $1 billion bid to make iron briquettes in East Toledo.

Briquettes made at Cleveland-Cliffs' new Direct Reduction Plant will be used by the company and by other customers, including northwest Ohio steel-makers, to make premium steel products.

Although the ribbon cutting took place Wednesday, the plant's 160 workers have been cooking iron ore pellets since December to create condensed hot briquetted iron, known as HBI. The plant already hit peak production.

"This isn't an app. This doesn't work off an iPhone. ...We make things," Mr. Goncalves said about the company's decision to build the facility.

Cleveland-Cliffs is "producing steel in this country in the most environmentally friendly way possible," he added.

The company, which is based in Cleveland but has operations throughout the Great Lakes region, began looking at an HBI plant seven years ago, then started construction in April 2018 on its 457-foot furnace tower — the highest point on the Great Lakes. The facility expected to be operating by last summer but work was stalled during the pandemic.

Calling Wednesday "a very happy day for this governor," Mr. DeWine said the Direct Reduction Plant signals that "manufacturing, steel-making, and the steel industry are all alive and well in northwest Ohio and the state of Ohio."

Besides the governor and Ms. Kaptur, Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz took part in the ribbon cutting. Ohio's U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman could not attend, but sent representatives and messages of praise in their stead.

The governor gave high praise for the construction workers that built the plant despite working around the pandemic.

"What a magnificent project, done with no fatalities, done by American workers during a pandemic. I mean, just think about that — an absolutely phenomenal thing. I'm very, very, very proud of what these workers have done," Mr. DeWine said.

The pandemic taught America many lessons, a key one being not to rely on other countries because the first thing the country saw "was supply chains torn to hell," the governor said.

"When it comes to defense, when it comes to national security, we have to make it here. We cannot be dependent on China, we cannot be dependent on Russia," Mr. DeWine said. "What we are seeing here today is testament to that belief," he added, praising Cleveland-Cliffs for its commitment to make HBI in Ohio.

Ms. Kaptur (D., Toledo) said not only is dependency on other nations disconcerting, China is undercutting industries like steel-making.

China is purposely making four times the amount of steel needed worldwide in a year. "And then she strategically dumps it," Ms. Kaptur said. "We really are in a race for the kind of country we are versus the competition.

"This is such an important day, not just for Toledo or Ohio, but for America. Thank you so very much for Cleveland-Cliffs' commitment to the United States of America, to our steel production capacity, and understanding what it means to be the greatest nation in the world," Ms. Kaptur said.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz noted that Site Selection magazine, the "gold standard" in economic development circles, in March named Toledo No. 1 for new business investment among metropolitan areas with populations between 200,000 and 1 million. It marks the first time the city has been so honored.

Toledo has never before secured that ranking. "This is not something that you can apply for. This is not something you can lobby for," the mayor said.

Cleveland-Cliff's investment shows Toledo has resilience and the ability to innovate when needed to bring new economic growth to the area. "Toledoans can do everything, and we have over the years," Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.

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