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Joliet Area Steel Plant Closing To Cost 110 Jobs

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JOLIET TOWNSHIP, Ill. (STMW) – About 110 workers will lose their jobs by the end of the year when the Gerdau steel plant shuts its doors.

The business, once owned by Sheffield Steel, originally started in the 1860s as a horseshoe factory, according to Kim Selph, a spokeswoman for Gerdau’s office in Tampa, Fla. The plant produces steel “flats and squares” used by manufacturers, fabricators and cold finishers in their products. But in recent years more of the work was done elsewhere, Selph said.

“Unfortunately, the facility was not competitive for the business,” according to a company press release.

The Joliet-area plant, located at 1 Industry Ave. just north of the city and east of Broadway, is producing 24,000 tons of product a year, less than 1 percent of the company’s North American production capacity, company officials said.

“Gerdau has already shifted large volumes to its North American network of mills and will continue to transfer product offerings,” the release stated.

Gerdau, founded in Brazil in 1901, acquired the Joliet plant in 2006 when it bought Sheffield Steel, according to the company’s website.

The company will work with the employees in the coming weeks to help them with the “transition,” Selph said.

“This is difficult because of the impact on the local work force, but ultimately we must make decisions that position the company for long-term success,” she said.

The announcement comes on the heels of the news last week that wireless communications maker CommScope will cease manufacturing operations in Will County, which will cost 200 jobs.

That shutdown was attributed to a decreased demand for coaxial cable and related products made at the factory, which is located in the Joliet portion of the Cherry Hill Business Park north of Interstate 80 and west of Gougar Road.

John Greuling, president and CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development, said Wednesday that the closure of both companies is just more of a trend that sees fewer and fewer manufacturing jobs with older technologies.

“It’s another part of the dismantling of the traditional manufacturing and industrial base of the Midwest,” he said.

But Will County is gaining in logistics jobs, he said. And although many have been distribution-based, even those jobs are getting more sophisticated with robots and high-tech machinery, he said. The county’s two intermodal hubs, where goods are transferred between trucks and trains, should lure more sophisticated jobs in years to come, he said.

“It’s the transition from old manufacturing to new advanced manufacturing,” he said.

While finding a new user for the older Gerdau building may be tough, Greuling is optimistic that the relatively new CommScope building will find a new user.

“It’s not a 50-year-old steel plant,” he said. “Finding a new user for it shouldn’t be too hard.”

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)