Great Lakes steel production rose by 6,000 tons last week, but remains depressed by more than 18% this year with U.S. steel mills only operating at two-thirds of capacity, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.
Steel mills in the Great Lakes region, clustered mainly along the lakeshore in Northwest Indiana, made 555,000 tons of metal in the week that ended Dec. 5, up from 549,000 tons the previous week.
Steel production is down by 18.3% for the year, while steel capacity utilization has fallen nearly 13 percentage points year over year, largely as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that greatly weakened demand.
Overall, domestic steel mills in the United States made 1.579 million tons of steel last week, up 1.2% from 1.561 million tons the previous week, but down 13.1% as compared to 1.818 million tons the same time a year prior.
Steel demand started plummeting in mid-March when automakers like Ford, General Motors and Honda — some of the largest consumers of steel in North America — temporarily ceased production to curb the spread of COVID-19, forcing Northwest Indiana steel mills to idle operations and temporarily lay off hundreds of workers.
Demand since has been slowly rebounding, along with steel prices.
So far this year, domestic steel mills in the United States have made 73.76 million tons of steel, an 18.3% decrease compared to the 90.26 million tons made during the same period in 2019.
U.S. steel mills have run at a capacity utilization rate of 67.2% through Dec. 5, down from 80% at the same point in 2019, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.
Steel capacity utilization nationwide was 71.4% last week, which was up from 70.6% the previous week but down from 78.6% at the same time a year ago.
Steel production in the southern region, a wide geographic swath that encompasses many mini-mills and rivals the Great Lakes region in output, was 641,000 tons last week, down from 665,000 tons the week before. Volume in the rest of the Midwest rose to 169,000 tons, up from 162,000 tons the week prior.
Gallery: U.S. Steel's long history in the Region