A new customer supply contract will allow U.S. Steel Corp. to reopen its idled Keewatin, Minn., iron pelletizing plant in March, company officials said.
About 202 of the 412 employees who were laid off in May 2015 will be called back to the Keetac plant beginning in January, officials said on Thursday.
U.S. Steel did not name the customer but said in a statement it will “adjust its pellet production in order to take full advantage of these business opportunities.”
The Keetac plant has the ability to produce 6 million tons of iron ore annually. The ore, known as taconite, is the key ingredient to making steel, and it’s plentiful in northeastern Minnesota.
Keetac, however, was shut down a year and a half ago after iron ore prices plummeted worldwide.
Two years ago, iron ore and steel producers across the United States were clobbered by depressed ore prices and by illegal dumping of underpriced steel into the United States. In recent months, the International Trade Commission leveled sanctions against the biggest offenders: China, Brazil and Korea.
As a result, more than 2,000 people were laid off at 11 taconite plants and mines in the Iron Range, and Magnetation and Essar Steel Minnesota filed for bankruptcy.
U.S. Steel had not only shut its Keetac plant in May 2015, but had also idled its Minntac plant in Mountain Iron, Minn., for a year, temporarily affecting another 700 workers.
The illegal imports have since slowed, helping to bring demand back to normal nationwide. Besides U.S. Steel, companies such as United Taconite and North Shore Mining have reopened factories in recent months.
“This is great news for Keetac’s workers, for the Range and for all of Minnesota.” said Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton in a statement.