A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

AK Steel announces plans to shutter remaining operations at Ashland Works by end of 2019


By Mark Maynard
Kentucky Today

The news that AK Steel was closing the Ashland Works by the end of 2019 was like a punch in the gut to Ashland Mayor Steve Gilmore.

“Armco (the former name of the steel plant) raised me,” he said. “I have very strong feelings about it. Being the mayor, losing that many jobs in a small town, is very difficult. We’ll have to regroup. We’ve been a survivor of a lot of shutdowns and closings over the years.”

In December 2015, AK Steel idled most of the Ashland Works operations, including the blast furnace, but continued to operate a single hot dip galvanizing coating line with 230 employees. The company had about 940 employees when it was partially shuttered three years ago.

“It’s really a tough hit for Ashland, Kentucky,” Gilmore said. “That plant basically built this town as far as I’m concerned. It’s had such a major impact for 10 years.”

Gilmore and state Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, have both been in contact with AK Steel officials in Middletown but no matter what was offered, it wasn’t enough to keep the plant open.

“I’ve been working with them a long time now,” Webb said. “About everything they’ve ever asked for, we’ve come through with. They thanked us for trying and giving them about all they asked for.”

The impact will be felt far beyond Ashland and Boyd County, Webb said. “It affects the whole Tri-State, Southern Ohio and West Virginia, Greenup County, all around us,” she said. “A lot of people from Carter County worked there and some still do.

“Like Ashland Oil (Marathon), it’s such an iconic place that defines our region.”

Gilmore received the news from a phone call from the AK Steel vice-president around 4:30 p.m. Monday.

“We had met with officials about what can we do to keep this place going,” he said. “The dye was cast. People who worked there saw it long before we did. I was hoping against hope that something bright was going to happen.”

The company plans to increase its operating efficiency and lower its costs by completing the shutdown of the blast furnace and steelmaking operations within the next several months, and by working with its customers to transition products coated at Ashland Works to other AK Steel operations in the United States with available capacity before the end of this year.

This will increase those operations’ utilization rates. Production volumes and customer shipments are not expected to be impacted by the closure. The company will offer employees at the Ashland Works site open jobs at its other facilities.

“I hate it so bad for those families,” Gilmore said. “There’s 230 or so employees but you can multiply that times five or six. It’ll affect a lot of people.”

Webb said it wasn’t the quality of work coming out of the Ashland facility that spelled its demise.

“We have the best trades and steelworkers in the world and the company agreed with me on that,” she said. “We make the best product in the world. It’s just corporate decision making.”

Some workers will be eligible for retirement and others will be offered a severance package if they don’t choose to leave the area. Webb said she wants to retain as much of the skilled talent for the area as possible.

“I know the state will be looking” at options, Webb said. “We will have displaced worker and transition programs. We’ve got a few months to deal with it. It’s important that affected workers realize that they’re not in this alone. We’re a community and everybody will be there for them.”

Gilmore said they would market the area in hopes of something else coming in to take the space. “We have the river, the rail and within 500 miles have the largest population in the nation. We need to pull up our bootstraps.”

The company plans to increase its operating efficiency and lower its costs by completing the shutdown of the blast furnace and steelmaking operations within the next several months, and by working with its customers to transition products coated at Ashland Works to other AK Steel operations in the United States with available capacity before the end of this year.


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