Canton Repository

February 25, 2002

Nucor jobs like gold in poor country 

By PAUL KRAWZAK
Copley News Service

BLYTHEVILLE, Ark. -- What do you get when you take Nucor Corp., one of the highest-paying steel companies, and put it in one of America’s poorest counties?

You get a dramatic impact, including plenty of high-paying jobs and economic spinoffs.

That’s what happened in Mississippi County, part of the depressed cotton-growing Delta region in northeast Arkansas.

“They kind of saved our bacon when the air base closed,” said Cecil Holifield, president and chief executive officer of the Blytheville-Gosnell Area Chamber of Commerce. More than
6,000 people left the community after the shutdown of Eaker Air Force Base in the early 1990s, he said.

“I think that Blytheville would have become a has-been, almost a ghost town, if it had not been for Nucor,” adds the Rev. James A. Decanter, pastor of Ruddle Road Church of God. When the base closed, “it really looked bleak for Blytheville.”

Nucor has been in the community since 1988, when it built the Nucor-Yamato beam-making plant. The company constructed another plant, the Nucor Hickman flat-rolling facility, a few
miles away in 1992. Nucor has expanded both operations since then. The company employs more than 1,300 at both plants.

With an estimated median family income of $23,000, less than two-thirds the national average, Mississippi County is among the poorest in the state. Almost 30 percent of its 51,979 residents receive welfare or food stamps.

It’s easy to see why jobs at Nucor are coveted.

Joe Hicks, for example, did farm work and was supervisor at a shoe factory before getting a job at Nucor Hickman. 

“Average pay at Nucor is $62,000 to $63,000,” he said. “Local industry is one-third of that. We are far and away the desired employer. There are people beating down the door to get
in here.”

Nucor is a source of resentment among some residents who are not employed there and earn far less than what Nucor pays, several people said.

Some locals also complain that Nucor, which has received millions of dollars’ worth of state and local tax and economic incentives, has gotten a better deal than other businesses, Holifield said.

Joe Stratman, general manager of the Nucor-Yamato plant, credits the company with bringing “to this community the growth of a true middle class. It was primarily agricultural. The manufacturing base has solidified with the steel industry.”

Nucor has attracted or generated some 4,000 jobs outside steel production, Holifield estimates. A handful of manufacturing
companies, including Maverick Tube Co., located here because of Nucor.

Maverick Tube, which makes oil and natural gas pipe, took advantage of Nucor’s offer to deliver its steel free of shipping charges.

When Nucor came to Arkansas, Marine Terminals of Arkansas, a river shipper, had just six employees, General Manager Rick Ellis
recalls. Since then, the company has grown to 175 employees. Ellis said 95 percent of its business is with Nucor.

Beyond Nucor’s economic impact, managers at the two plants say the company tries to be a good neighbor. Nucor employees get involved in the community.

For instance, the two Nucor plants gave a $12,000 matching grant to a local school district for a computer lab, said David Chase, general manager of Nucor Hickman. Nucor employees volunteered to install the computers. The company sends area fourth-graders to a 4-H camp each year.

At Ruddle Road Church of God, Nucor employees are “very much a contributing force for the church, financially, and working while
they are here. They’re first class in every way,” the church’s pastor Decanter said. One Wednesday evening, Nucor employees and their teen-age children were among those leading a Bible study-activity session for underprivileged children.

Twice a week, the church buses in the kids, who are poor and often come from a drug abuse background.

“Mostly we’re just trying to teach them lessons about various things,” Decanter said, “about living right and living successfully, and using the puppet shows and the Bible as a basis for teaching lessons.”