McCrabb: Opening of AK Steel research center a ‘home run’ for area


McCrabb: Opening of AK Steel research center a ‘home run’ for area

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A grand opening ceremony was held Friday, April 7, for the new AK Steel Research and Innovation Center in Middletown. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Ten years after one of the darkest days in Middletown’s history, the sun shined bright Friday morning, and fittingly reflected off the large red logo on the side of AK Steel’s new Research and Innovation Center.

James Wainscott was president and CEO of AK Steel when the company announced plans to move its headquarters out of Middletown and down Interstate 75 to West Chester Twp. That was a major financial blow to the city and its psyche, but also taught leaders an important lesson: Take nothing — or anyone — for granted.

So several years ago, Middletown leaders started courting and repairing relations with AK Steel in hopes of attracting the Research and Innovation Center, and its well-paid, highly-educated employees, to the city. AK Steel CEO Roger Newport said the company “had options.” But in the end, two years ago, the company broke ground on the $36 million facility and opened it Friday morning, a ribbon-cutting ceremony that drew city, county and state politicians and community leaders.

If you wore a suit Friday, you probably were at the grand opening.

Those who attended left impressed by the 135,000-square-foot facility located in the city’s Renaissance District and by AK Steel’s dedication to Middletown.

Middletown City Manager Doug Adkins called the center “a home run” for the city and region. He said the facility means more jobs, demonstrates AK’s further commitment to Middletown and adds “a nice, beautiful anchor” to the I-75 corridor.

Former Middletown City Council member Anita Scott Jones said the facility shows “AK still believes in Middletown.”

She said the hospital and steel company are the city’s top two employers and opening the research center “is just a positive boost.”

Middletown and AK, and its predecessor Armco, have a long and illustrious history. The company, 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., was founded by George Verity 118 years ago. The steelmaker has its fingerprints on numerous projects in the city.

As AK Steel goes, so goes Middletown.

Because of the company’s lengthy history, and number of residents who either work there or are retired from there, there are “emotional ties” to AK, Mulligan said.

Those ties just got tighter.

“A proud moment for the city” is how Mulligan described the opening of the center. “It’s a testament and shows that Middletown is coming back. This puts Middletown on the map.”

Early in the negotiations, there were rumors the plant may be built outside of Middletown. That would have been like former Middie great Jerry Lucas transferring from Middletown to Hamilton before his senior year.

“A loss, a real punch in the gut, so to speak,” Mulligan said when asked his reaction had the center been built elsewhere. “It’s hard to imagine if it weren’t here.”

Wainscott, who served as president and CEO of AK Steel from 2003 to 2006, said when the the company announced it was moving its corporate offices, he told those in research they “wouldn’t be left behind,” and a new facility would be built to replace the one at 705 Curtis St. That plan was delayed by the Great Recession the following year, he said.

That wait ended last week.

Throughout the presentation in the auditorium, Wainscott sat toward the back. He smiled and nodded his head several times as though he was proudly watching a child receive recognition.

“It sets the tone for the future of the company, the employees and the city,” Wainscott said after the presentations. “It says that Middletown is going through a rebirth, a renovation, especially on this side of (Interstate) 75.”

As other well-wishers approached, Wainscott turned and added: “This is an incredible shot in the arm for the city of Middletown.”

A shot in the arm beats a punch in the gut.

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