GARY | U.S. Sen. Dan Coats praised the commitment U.S. Steel Corp. has made in investing millions of dollars in its Northwest Indiana operation and described the company as a testament to the nation's and state's strength in manufacturing.
Coats visited U.S. Steel Gary Works on Monday as part of an informational visit, and he and media briefly toured the complex. Prior to the tour, he spoke to 70 employees about the importance of reducing legislative gridlock in Washington and making the business climate friendlier to companies such as U.S. Steel to encourage them to invest in their facilities.
Achieving comprehensive tax reform, having a "sensible" regulatory system, getting the nation's debt and deficit under control and having improved workforce training for manufacturing careers are among the improvements Coats said would boost economic growth.
"If we can't get our country moving again and get our growth back to where it needs to be, it's going to continue to put a strain on your company and all companies in terms of demand for your product," said Coats, R-Ind. "We need a growing economy so we can build bridges, build buildings, so we can use steel and so ultimately what we need to do in Washington directly affects you."
He also praised U.S. Steel for its efforts to improve its environmental profile. Coats said the company's $220 million project to start production of a substitute for traditionally manufactured coke in steelmaking shows its commitment to reducing harmful emissions. During the tour, U.S. Steel Gary Works General Manager Matt Perkins said about 25 percent of the steel produced at Gary Works is made from recycled materials.
"You have a terrific story to tell in terms of the amount of money that has been spent over the past 20, 30 years to clean up the environment, to be responsible producers of an absolutely necessary product," Coats said.
After the tour, Coats said the company has worked well with federal regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on improving the environment and worker safety, but there's an appearance these agencies have "run away with regulations." He said the progress made to date has not happened by accident.
"There's some people that would say no matter what the cost, take that next 0.1 percent, and it may not make economic sense because we've come far," he said. "So let's continue on a path that doesn't put us at a competitive disadvantage to those we work against."
During the tour, Perkins also highlighted the company's interest in producing advanced high-strength steels for the automobile industry that are lighter weight and formidable to meet automakers' strict standards. The mill produces hundreds of grades of steel for customers in various sectors including automotive, appliance, container and construction.
More than 6,000 people work for U.S. Steel in Northwest Indiana, which includes its operations in Gary, East Chicago and Portage, said Jill Ritchie, U.S. Steel's manager of state and governmental affairs. Perkins said the annual raw steelmaking capacity at Gary Works is about 7 million tons annually.
Coats said he'll continue to work with U.S. Steel to ensure countries aren't illegally dumping products in the domestic market and manipulating their currency to detriment of a business that plays by the rules.