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AISTech Town Hall: Challenges and Opportunities Ahead for Steel

Executives from leading US steel companies sat down to discuss some of the challenges ahead of what appears to be a very bright future for the industry at AISTech 2023’s Town Hall Forum in Detroit on Wednesday, May 10.

Panelists included Traci L. Forrester, Cleveland-Cliffs’ EVP, environmental and sustainability; Richard L. Fruehauf, SVP – chief strategy and sustainability officer at US Steel; Barry T. Schneider, president and COO of Steel Dynamics Inc. (SDI); Sushma Walker, president, Nucor Business Technology; and Michael S. Williams, president and CEO of TimkenSteel.

 globe arrowIn a wide-ranging discussion, event moderator Jon Delano, Money and Politics editor at KDKA-TV (CBS), posed a series of questions to the panel on the state of the industry. When asked about key challenges, the panelists named several top-of-mind issues.

US Steel’s Fruehauf pointed to climate change as an “existential threat.” As to how the US steel industry is responding, he was equally clear. “Decarbonization is happening. That ship has sailed.”

He said the perception is that steel is an “old, dirty industry,” and that needs to be changed. “We need to communicate how steel is part of the future.”

Cliffs’ Forrester remained upbeat about the resilience of steel. “Steel is the material of choice, steel is needed,” she said, emphasizing Cliffs’ continued commitment to blast furnace steelmaking.

Echoing the positive sentiment, Fruehauf said the next few years could be the “steel market of a lifetime.” He said positive developments included the reshoring of domestic manufacturing and the decoupling of global trade, something that could result in better regional trade dynamics.

Nucor’s Walker emphasized “overcapacity and the need to be more sustainable.” She cited China as an example of a country with too much capacity but also said it wasn’t the only culprit.

SDI’s Schneider also cited foreign competition: “We have to be very careful with our trade laws.”

There was consensus within the panel that the Biden administration had been good for steel, especially with infrastructure spending and the maintaining of Section 232 tariffs.   

TimkenSteel’s Williams stressed global instability. The war in Ukraine has forced a reorganization of the supply chain. While lamenting the tragedy of the conflict, he said that TimkenSteel is used in US armaments.

Williams added that “we’re still in a supply chain recovery,” adding that “we’re seeing onshoring, but it’s not happening overnight.”

On the war in Ukraine, Fruehauf said that US Steel’s mill in Kosice, Slovakia, is just 60 miles away from the fighting. One lesson has been made clear from the war in Europe: the need for energy independence, something he said North America could accomplish.

One issue the panel agreed on was the difficulty of attracting and retaining a broad spectrum of workers. The steel industry has a big task on its hands, they said. That includes bringing into steel more women, a more diverse workforce, and more young people.

“We need to get the message to the appropriate age group as early as possible,” TimkenSteel’s Williams said. “We need to make steel cool.”

By Ethan Bernard,

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