AK Steel’s new, $36 million Research and Innovation Center represents a “new attitude” for the city of Middletown, said numerous local and state officials who turned out Friday for the facility’s grand opening.
Middletown Mayor Larry Mulligan said the 135,000-square-foot facility, which is located on 16 acres in Middletown’s Renaissance District just north of Atrium Medical Center, is “truly a showpiece on I-75.”
“The state of the art of the facility is a testament to AK’s history in Middletown, but also their future here,” Mulligan said Friday during the center’s grand opening. “The project was not only a major project for AK in terms of dollars, but also in terms of it adding 30 new jobs, which opens workforce opportunities here in Middletown.”
The new center, which includes replicas of the company’s steel-making facilities, also highlights the growth and revitalization of Middletown, he said.
“It represents a new attitude that we are open for business and ready for new opportunities,” Mulligan said. “we want to work with companies who are working to expand or relocate and that we have the tools and resources to do so.”
AK Steel CEO Roger Newport said since 2014, AK Steel expanded its research and innovation team by about 30 percent and “dramatically” increased the amount of research and innovation products tripling what it did in 2016 compared to 2014.
“This is the epicenter of our innovation,” Newport said. “It just keeps us positioned well as a company. As I look at it, if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. You have to be innovative. You’ve got to come up with that new product that the customer doesn’t even know they need.”
Newport said the facility sends a “clear message” that innovation is a key part of the company and shows it is focused on ensuring it can anticipate and surpass customers’ needs and expectations.
“It’s further evidence of our strategy to drive innovative products and processes for our company’s continued leadership as an innovator in carbon, stainless and electrical steel products,” Newport said. “This new Research & Innovation Center provides a platform for collaborating with our customers throughout the automotive market, the infrastructure and manufacturing market and the electrical power distribution and generation markets.”
AK Steel is Butler County’s third-largest employer with a total of approximately 2,400 full-time employees at its Middletown Works and corporate headquarters in West Chester Twp.
The facility replaces the one at 705 Curtis St., near where the company’s former headquarters once stood in Middletown.
Warren County Port Authority Executive Director Martin Russell said AK Steel’s new facility helps Middletown as it moves forward to re-shape the city’s east end and its Interstate 75 exit.
“I think it really highlights that you can have a Fortune 500 or greater company to invest over $36 million in a site,” Russell said. “It just builds momentum … and showcases Middletown and Warren County as the heart of the Cincinnati-Dayton metroplex.”
Rick Pearce, the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Serving Middletown, Monroe & Trenton, said the new center makes “a huge impact” because there are many companies who are in the area because AK Steel’s mill is in Middletown.
“With its predecessor company, Armco, starting the first research facility within a steel company and with this move they’ve made, taking that to the next level for next 100 years, means that we don’t know all of the businesses that could possibly spur off of this, at this point in time,” Pearce said. “But we look forward to growing with them and finding out what those opportunities are and filling that void.”
The center will bring life to the vision AK Steel has had for many years to a be state of the art facility that brings together its researchers and engineers with customers, said Eric Petersen, vice president of research and innovation at AK Steel.
“Together, we’ll meet the ever-demanding needs of our business and continue to drive world-class innovations and solutions for our business’ future,” Petersen said.
The facility’s “modern, customer and employee-centric lobby” is designed to transport customers through the company’s 118-year history in steelmaking and propel them into the future it continues to design today, he said.
AK Steel’s new Research & Innovation Center also is designed to foster collaboration, not only in the workspace environment and its 22 collaborative spaces, but also in 34 laboratories to improve design, production and modeling of new technologies and pilot production lines to produce new varieties of steel products, Petersen said.
The new Research and Innovation Center further expands the company’s capabilities to bring new steel products to the marketplace. AK Steel officials said that includes next-generation advanced high strength carbon and specialty steels to help automotive customers design lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles that maintain superior strength and safety performance; electrical steels that will enable the nation’s electricity grid to become more energy-efficient and improve performance in motors for hybrid and electric vehicles; and new stainless steels that offer superior corrosion resistance for a wide variety of applications.
State Rep. Steve Chabot lauded AK Steel for being a leader in steel innovation and said the new center was a “forward-thinking” facility.
“It’s going to benefit not only this community, but it’s going to benefit the entire country and really, the whole world,” Chabot said.