All Iron Range mines that temporarily shut down this summer due to the pandemic’s impact on the steel industry will likely be open by the end of the year after U.S. Steel announced Keewatin Taconite would come back online.
“We are encouraged by the increase in demand and believe this restart will best support our customers,” the company said in a statement Thursday.
The company expects to fill nearly 400 positions, and said it would work with the United Steelworkers union to recall the 375 workers who were laid off by the closing in April. No timeline was given for resuming operations.
The move comes just a week after U.S. Steel CEO Dave Burritt told investors the company was “analyzing timing around restarting our Keetac iron ore pellet facility,” with an eye to increasing inventory levels ahead of the end of the Great Lakes shipping season this winter. U.S. Steel has lost more than $1.2 billion through the first nine months of 2020 amid a 30% drop in net sales, but the company saw a “market recovery” begin in the third quarter.
Keetac is the smallest taconite operation on the Iron Range and has an annual production capacity of 6 million tons of taconite pellets per year. It is typically the last mine to reopen following industry downturns.
“This is a good day for the Iron Range and for an industry that’s a pillar of Minnesota’s economy,” said Gov. Tim Walz in a statement. “The decision to reopen Keetac will restore hundreds of good-paying union jobs for Minnesotans in the Northland. I’m excited to see Minnesotans get back to work.”
About 1,750 employees were laid off this summer as four mines drastically cut back production or idled completely. As economic conditions improved, production ramped back up again at Minntac, Northshore Mining and Hibtac.
The World Steel Association expects steel demand to grow 6.7% in North America next year and 4.1% worldwide.