Final Thoughts

Final thoughts

Written by Ethan Bernard

Sometimes, words can lead you in interesting directions. Specifically, crosswords. For the last six weeks we have been making steel-themed crosswords in the lead-up to SMU’s Steel 101 course in Fort Wayne, Ind., which is taking place today and tomorrow. I’ve learned snippets of steel history and educated myself on the finer points of sponge iron.

When we did a crossword on mills that no longer existed, something hit me. The mills where parts of the movies Footloose and Terminator II were filmed are both no longer active. That’s when I realized a specific image problem with the steel industry.

As a child of the 1980s, I thought back to specific movies, from Flashdance to Tom Cruise in All the Right Moves. Now, feel free to look up these movies on IMDB for those who are unfamiliar; you will not find them featured under cinematic gems. Still, they show a steel industry in decline, a symbol of dwindling American manufacturing might.

Even the critically acclaimed 1978 film The Deer Hunter featured a sequence of steelworkers in a mill. However, this comment on YouTube from that clip, while anecdotal, could illustrate a wider misconception: “Too bad this industry died, because it fed and housed a lot of families.”

Popular consciousness has not caught up to the renaissance that has occurred in the US steel industry, which is now the cleanest in the world, as well as the fourth largest globally.

I recently attended both the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) annual general meeting in Washington and the Steel Manufacturers Association (SMA)/Metals Service Center Institute (MSCI) annual general meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., and I got a glimpse of how big the disconnect between this image and reality is.

From environmental stewardship to AI to trade and decarbonization, steel is on the cutting edge of many of the leading issues of our time. These meetings featured nationally prominent politicians, trade officials, and industry titans involved in making crucial decisions affecting both the American and global economies. Yet the wider public is, for the most part, unaware of this.

The challenge is how to more widely disseminate the current situation in the steel industry. A way forward could be what Nucor did earlier this year at the South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) 2024 in Austin, Texas. SXSW famously gathers some of the biggest players across many industries including media, health care, education, etc., and now steel. By presenting a panel there, it’s possible to cross-pollinate between industries and hope that this starts to filter down. Perhaps people interested in tech will see how cutting-edge tech informs the steel industry.

Another example is the Repurposed reality show featuring John Sacco, president and co-owner of Sierra International Machinery, which explores the world of steelmaking and recycled metals. Of course, these are just small examples. I know that many of our subscribers are involved in outreach efforts to educate the public on this industry and attract talented workers. Little by little, that old conception of the steel industry is fading away. Does anyone have a screenplay featuring escaped dinosaurs in an EAF mill? Just an idea.

Ethan Bernard

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