Georgetown's mill sees new day as workers return

Marvin Sheppard stopped for a minute in front of the ArcelorMittal steel mill in the early morning chill Monday and took a deep breath.

"We're going back to work," he said with a broad smile.

Sheppard and about 150 other mill workers were back at work for the first day of stable production since the mill shut down in July 2009. Some workers started on Oct. 11 to prepare the mill, and test runs started about two weeks ago.

Joining Sheppard in his happiness were the owner and a bartender at Rebar - a bar not far from the mill, on Church Street - who expect that some of those mill workers will come back and boost their business.

Shay Williams, the bartender, said her afternoons have been boring with few, if any,customers, where there used to be mill workers who would stop by after their shift.

"I think it's great. We need all the business. Without these guys getting a check, we don't get any business in here," she said.

"I just hope they feel like they have stability now," Williams said. "We're a small community. We need these good jobs."

If business picks up as she expects it will, she'll be able to pay off some bills, go on her first vacation in more than four years and most importantly, she said, make sure her two sons have everything they need.

"It's just going to mean I'm going to be able to support my kids," Williams said. "At Christmas, it hurt real bad because things were real bad this year."

Bar owner Robin Richardson said she expects to see a trickle- down effect as the mill gets back in full swing.

"In the big picture these guys are back to work," she said. "How can you not support a small town that's bringing back employment?"

Laverne Williams, who has worked at the mill for about 14 years, after 10 years working for a mill contractor, said he was happy to have everything back up and running when he stopped in at Rebar for a drink Monday afternoon.

"It's great. It gives everybody the hope of having a job," he said.

Being out of work was tough for Williams, 44, but he earned his GED and was training for a career in air conditioning installation and repair. He said he weighed his options before going back to the mill because if it shuts down again it may be harder to find another job as he gets older.

Ultimately he decided it was a job he had always known and loved.

"I'm glad I'm back," he said. "I think I made the right decision."

Laverne Williams said ArcelorMittal told employees it had spent millions of dollars on repairs, which is a good sign for all the workers who returned.

"They put a lot of money in the building. I think they want to run it and make the best of it, and I just hope the community lets that happen," he said.

Not all of the former workers decided to go back - some moved on, others retired and some decided to leave the uncertainty. The company is reviewing applications for another 20 or so employees that will still be hired. About 187 workers will be on the job once the additional hires are made, said local United Steelworkers Union President James Sanderson.

He said the money ArcelorMittal has invested in the mill provides some certainty for the future and that employees were excited Monday.

"It gives them a peace of mind and some opportunity to know for a fact there is a light at the end of the tunnel," Sanderson said. "People are going back to work for the betterment of this community.

"It's a boost in the arm for the Georgetown economy"