Nucor: The real deal in steel.

Before the age of offshoring and outsourcing, steel mills were a common sight across America. In Seattle, at least one still is, especially if you’re driving over the West Seattle Bridge, which connects downtown to one of its most vibrant communities.

success-stories-nucor1In an area once known as Little Pittsburgh, a bright, fiery red mass of molten metal is bound to catch your eye, especially if you’re driving over the bridge at night. The furnaces run 24 hours a day at the mill, trying to keep up with global demand for Seattle steel.

Nucor Steel Mill’s origins can be traced back to 1904. Wanting to seize an opportunity, investors E.M. Wilson and William Pigott, Sr. created the Seattle Rail Car Company, which later became the Bethlehem Steel Company. If William’s name rings a bell, it’s because he also founded Pacific Car and Foundry, which today is known as PACCAR.

The mill creates five different shapes in 16 grades. More than 85% of the company’s total output, 135 tons an hour, is rebar, which is sold around the world to contractors building everything from hospitals and skyscrapers to bridges.

Where does the company get its raw materials? In short, if it can stick to the mill’s giant electromagnet, it’s fair game. Reuse, recycle and repurpose is the mantra, turning old cars, appliances and scrap into new steel.

It’s hard work, but honest work. The mill’s 320 workers earn between $85,000 and $95,000 a year and many of the employees are from second and even third generation mill families. Even when business has been slow, such as during the last recession, Nucor has refused to lay off workers. They haven’t laid a single person off since 1967.

As neighborhoods continue to expand into once industrial areas, you’d think there would be friction between a century-old mill and new residents. But the mill works hard to be a good neighbor. Residents can call the mill any time and arrange for a small group tour so they can see first-hand what is going on inside and how the mill is contributing to the region’s economy.

It should come as no surprise that Nucor’s furnaces need a lot of energy. The mill is Seattle City Light’s biggest energy customer, using enough electricity to power 42,000 homes. But thanks to continual innovation and investment, the plant has a relatively small carbon footprint. Some experts predict that an equivalent facility in China would consume seven to eight times the power. The only byproduct of the mill is steam; everything else is recycled and reused.

It’s nice to know that some things don’t change, even in the face of new technologies and growing competition overseas. The familiar red glow of Seattle’s only steel mill continues to remind residents that Washington’s economy is multifaceted and that a century-old company can still run with the big boys when it comes to competing for business internationally while contributing to the local economy.