AK Steel announcement surprised many in Butler County

Tuesday’s announcement that a Cleveland-based company would be acquiring Middletown’s cornerstone manufacturer surprised many community leaders.

Cleveland-Cliffs, North America’s largest producer of iron ore pellets, will acquire AK Steel, a leading producer of flat-rolled carbon, stainless and electrical steel products, for $1.1 billion.

Cleveland-Cliffs will maintain its headquarters in Cleveland while keeping a “significant presence” at AK Steel’s current offices in West Chester. The companies said that the Research & Innovation Center in Middletown would remain open.

AK Steel will retain its branding and corporate identity.

READ MORE: Cleveland-Cliffs to acquire AK Steel for $1.1B

Many city officials were trying to gather more information as the announcement was made but were optimistic about how it would affect the city.

“Today’s announcement of the merger between AK Steel and Cleveland-Cliffs came as a surprise, but appears to be a positive move for the combined company,” said Middletown Mayor Larry Mulligan.

“A stronger company benefits our region through continued local investment and employment opportunities. The City of Middletown values the 120-year history we’ve had with AK Steel and looks forward to their continued success as a premier steel manufacturer.

Others had only recently heard about the news when contacted by this news organization for comment.

“Not much surprises me anymore,” said Middletown Councilwoman Ami Vitori. “Hopefully this will bring a positive impact to Middletown.

“Typically in a merger this will bolster a company’s position and is a sign of growth. Hopefully, we can expect some positive financial outcome.”

When it’s appropriate, she said she would like to connect with the new owners.

“I’m always positive about change, and I hope it leads to growth for the company and the community,” she said.

MORE: AK Steel to shutter largely idled Kentucky facility by end of 2019

Said Councilman Joe Mulligan: “We look forward to working with them. I hope this helps AK in continuing to be a vibrant business and major employer for the city and region.”

Sam Ashworth, former Armco Steel employee from 1964-79 and local historian, said employees would at times hear rumors about a company sale.

“It’s amazing to me that over the years, Armco was not gobbled up by another company,” he said. “It was always talked about and rumored.”

As for Tuesday’s announcement, Ashworth noted that the announcement did not comment on the future of the Middletown Works, where the vast majority of the more than 2,500 employees in Butler and Warren counties work.

“That was the big surprise today,” he said. “My concern is if the Middletown plant stays here. I’m sure everyone is concerned about that. It would be a sad day for Middletown if they shuttered the plant.”

He said Tuesday’s announcement was the biggest company event since the Armco-Kawasaki merger in 1989. Ashworth said the company is still “an amazing story.”

“Things change and we’ll have to roll with that,” he said. “We’re lucky to have had that company and my hope is that it (the plant) will remain open.” Ashworth said.

Another retiree, the Rev. Michael Bailey, said “it was a little too early” to know what to expect, adding that he was not sure how the acquisition would impact Butler County or how it will impact pensions of retirees.

Bailey, who worked at the Middletown Works from 1972 until he retired in 2001, said he has not seen the terms of the sale but believes there will be a consolidation as the new management takes a look at the company’s integrated operations.

He said he’d like to explore more of the possible outcomes, adding this could be a concentration on carbon and specialty steel production in Middletown.

Bailey said this acquisition is bigger than the Armco-Kawasaki merger in 1989.

“That was a win-win then,” he said.

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