U.S. Steel is idling its Keewatin Taconite plant on the Iron Range indefinitely, officials said Thursday, noting that demand for iron and steel has dropped following the global COVID-19 pandemic that shut key industries, including U.S. auto factories.
The closure will affect 75 employees "near term" and a total of 375 employees over the next month, officials said. The state of Minnesota has been notified.
"After further study of current demand, we must make additional adjustments to our raw materials production and indefinitely idle our Keetac facility to respond to the sudden and dramatic decline in business conditions resulting from the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic," U.S. Steel said in a statement.
Keetac's temporary closure marks the week's second blow to Minnesota's Iron Range. Cleveland Cliffs on Monday said it was idling Northshore Mining's Babbitt and Silver Bay operations in Minnesota through August and its Tilden mining operations in Michigan through July.
With Keetac idling, it is not clear if U.S. Steel also plans to take similar action at its other iron-pelletizing operations in Minnesota. U.S. Steel owns Minntac in Mountain Iron and a minority share of Hibbing Taconite in Hibbing.
The mining operations are just a slice of the business closures across the state. Polaris, Winnebago, Doosan Bobcat, Starkey Hearing Technologies, Hy-Vee, Great Clips and Best Buy have been among those furloughing hundreds of Minnesota workers and temporarily closing production lines or stores due to the virus.