Gov. Tom Corbett was the latest politician in recent months to tour a U.S. Steel Corp. plant in Clairton, when on Monday he used the backdrop of ongoing industrial construction to tout the state’s new business-friendly budget.
The budget, passed June 30, included changes in the state tax law to encourage manufacturing investment and boost the natural gas industry, both of which benefit U.S. Steel’s operations in the region, Corbett said.
“Manufacturing remains the critical mass around which the rest of our economy grows,” the Republican governor said.
In May, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a Democrat, also visited the Clairton Works, which is nearing the end of a $500 million upgrade of part of its coke-making plant, the largest in the nation. The project, which began in 2010 and is expected to be complete by the end of this year, has employed about 800 workers in the construction trades.
“This is going to ensure the next generation of steelworkers will be working at this plant,” Rich Stanizzo, business manager for the Pittsburgh Building Trades Council, said.
About 1,300 people are employed at the plant, which makes about 4.7 million tons of coke each year for the company’s steel-making plants around the country.
The upgraded facility will produce more coke and fewer emissions than the older, less efficient batteries it will replace, officials have said. And it will save Downtown-based U.S. Steel money because it costs about half as much to make the product as to buy it on the open market from sources in China, Ukraine and elsewhere.
Corbett said the Clairton Works uses a lot of energy to produce coke, which requires heating coal to 2,000 degrees F. for 18 hours. Low-cost natural gas produced in Western Pennsylvania is helping keep energy costs down at the plant. In addition, the booming natural gas industry is buying lots of tubular steel for pipelines.
The state’s $27.7 billion budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which began July 1, cut businesses’ taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars and slashed hundreds of millions of dollars from social services.
Among incentives for industry were new tax credits intended to spur the construction of plants that turn by-products of natural gas into plastics, such as an ethane cracker plant that Netherlands-based Royal Dutch Shell may build in Beaver County.
Corbett said the credits will “allow new manufacturing to come to Pennsylvania that’s not here now.”