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Steel producer Nucor to build $1.3B mill in rural Kentucky

Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press

BRANDENBURG, Ky. (AP) -- Steel producer Nucor Corp. announced Wednesday it will build a $1.35 billion manufacturing mill in a rural Kentucky county, creating several hundred jobs while expanding its presence in the bluegrass state.

Gov. Matt Bevin said the steel plate mill to be built at Brandenburg in Meade County ranks as one of the state's largest-ever single investments. After the announcement, the Republican governor who is seeking re-election this year received a congratulatory call from President Donald Trump.

"These are the jobs upon which the greatness of America was made," Bevin told reporters.

Nucor CEO and President John Ferriola said the project will create about 400 jobs at an average annual salary of about $72,000 at the rural site some 45 miles (70 kilometers) southwest of Louisville.

With the Brandenburg project, Ferriola said, the North Carolina-based company is currently investing more than $2 billion in its Kentucky operations.

Ferriola later praised Trump's trade and tax policies that he told reporters helped make the Brandenburg project possible.

"It's a very big impact," he said when asked about the president's trade policies after the announcement. "We have dealt and competed on an unlevel playing field for decades, as a steel industry."

Large U.S. steelmakers have benefited since the Trump administration began imposing tariffs on imported steel last year, largely because they were able to raise domestic steel prices.

Other countries said the taxes break global trade rules and some impose tariffs of their own.

The president's willingness to pick trade fights with multiple trading partners at once set off rounds of retaliatory tariffs that have hurt some other sectors of Kentucky's economy, including its renowned bourbon industry. Counter-tariffs on American products make those goods costlier in those foreign markets.

Overall exports of bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and rye whiskey fell 11 percent during the second half of 2018 compared to the prior-year period, as the impact of tariffs began to be felt, the Distilled Spirits Council said recently. The drop-off was even larger in the European Union, the industry's biggest export market. Large and small American distillers alike are sharing the pain.

Retaliatory tariffs in this leading agricultural state also drove down the price of pork, corn and soybeans in farm country.

Nucor's announcement came shortly after Kentucky officials gave preliminarily approval for up to $40 million in state incentives for the Brandenburg project. The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority voted in favor of the incentives in a special meeting.

In the small town of Brandenburg, state and local officials cheered Nucor's announcement.

"This massive project will transform the region's economy and provide high-quality jobs to Kentuckians for generations to come," Bevin said.

The 1.5 million-square-foot facility (139,000-square-meter) facility will be built in an industrial park along the Ohio River, Bevin's office said in a news release.

The steel plant will be capable of producing up to 1.2 million tons per year to help meet regional national demands, Nucor said.

"The new plate mill will grow our company's already significant presence in Kentucky," Ferriola said.

The company said it expects construction will begin by year's end, with the mill opening by 2022.

Six months ago, the company announced a $650 million, 70-job expansion at its steel plant in Ghent in northern Kentucky. An earlier expansion announced in May 2017 is expected to open in the first half of this year, representing a $176 million investment and the addition of 75 jobs, also at the Ghent plant.