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U.S. Steel to bring back 200 workers, restart ore mine

The Cedarglen ore carrier docked in Duluth, Minnesota, takes on a load in 2011. U.S. Steel is restarting its Keetac iron ore plant in Minnesota and bringing back 200 workers. 

U.S. Steel plans to restart its Keetac mine in Keewatin, Minnesota, to produce more iron ore pellets, in another sign of the recovering health of the domestic steel industry.

The Pittsburgh-based steelmaker, one of Northwest Indiana's largest employers, announced it would bring 202 workers back to the mine operation starting in January 2017. Many have been out of work for 19 months.

U.S. Steel idled its Keetac mine, which produced up to six million tons of iron ore pellets a year, in May 2015 "due to global influences in the market, including high levels of imported steel products, unfair trade and reduced steel prices." The federal government has since imposed several new tariffs on imported steel and Congress passed tough new trade laws designed to crack down on steel dumping.

The company's stock price has more than doubled since September. U.S. Steel stock traded Friday for more than $33 a share.

U.S. Steel expects to restart iron ore production at the mine in March. It will serve third-party pellet customers, including U.S. Steel's former Canadian operations, which the company recently divested and sold to Bedrock Industries after a bankruptcy.

"Keetac is restarting in order to respond to iron ore pellet demand from third-party pellet customers. This decision has no impact on other U. S. Steel facilities,"  spokeswoman Erin DePietro said.

After U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi earlier this month predicted the steel industry in the United States could bring back as many as 10,000 laid-off steelworkers, the company also announced it would restart the hot strip mill at its idled Granite Works plant and pump $30 million into upgrading other hot strip mills, including at Gary Works.

But it's not all rosy news.

The steelmaker did decide to permanently shutter the No. 4 Seamless Pipe Mill at its Lorain Tubular Operations in Ohio and the No. 1 Electric-Weld Pipe Mill at Lone Star Tubular Operations in Lone Star, Texas, because of its ailing tubular business. About 120 steelworkers were laid off when those mills were originally idled.


Business reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.