Mountain State Carbon marks its 100th year

CELEBRATING A CENTURY — Officials with AK Steel and Mountain State Carbon celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Follansbee coke plant by making a $5,000 donation to the Follansbee R.E.A.C.H. Program, a local food pantry. On hand for the presentation were, from left, Renee Filiatraut, vice president of external relations for AK Steel; Ed Wilkerson, chairman of the food pantry’s board; Mayor David Velegol Jr.; Larry Hermes, operations manager for AK Steel and vice president and chief financial officer for Mountain State Carbon; Bonnie James, volunteer director of the food pantry; City Manager John DeStefano; and Kirk Reich, president and chief operating officer of AK Steel. -- Warren Scott

FOLLANSBEE — Since 1917 the Follansbee coke plant has played a key role in the city, employing many residents and contributing to the community in various ways.

So it was fitting that officials with AK Steel and Mountain State Carbon would celebrate the plant’s 100th anniversary by reaching out to a charity helping local citizens in need.

Before cutting a cake to celebrate the milestone, leaders of the steel firm presented a check for $5,000 to the Follasnbee R.E.A.C.H. Program, a grassroots group that provides food to about 30 households.

Bonnie James, the program’s volunteer director, said it’s the largest single donation she has received.

“This is wonderful,” said Ed Wilkerson, who chairs the food pantry’s board of directors.

He said the program has provided food to more than 160,000 households since it was begun 45 years ago.

Renee Filiatraut, vice president of external relations for AK Steel, said the cause was chosen by Mountain State Carbon employees to be the focus of charitable efforts under AK Steel’s AK Cares program.

Filiatraut said the employees have enjoyed competing for a bowl-shaped traveling trophy dubbed the Souper Bowl that goes to the AK facility whose employees have generated the most support for their cause.

She noted they have won it two consecutive years by collecting first 1,700 pounds of food and the following year, more than 2,000 pounds.

Mayor David Velegol said, “This plant has been a huge anchor to this city. Not only has the city benefited from the many jobs and tax dollars it has provided, it’s also benefited from its corporate citizenship, including support of Community Days and other activities. This operation has been a true blessing for our community.”

Kirk Reich, president and chief operating officer of AK Steel, also applauded Mountain State Carbon employees for their commitment to running an efficient plant in a safe and environmentally conscious manner.

He said numerous environmental deviations were recorded for the plant under previous ownership in 2014, but following its acquisition by AK Steel in 2015, that number had dropped to zero.

A Woodsfield, Ohio, native, Reich said many of the plant’s 200 hourly and salaried employees have worked at the Follansbee plant much of their lives.

“What is done here is absolutely essential to our operation,” he said, noting the coke produced by the plant is vital to the production of steel by AK Steel.

The West Chester, Ohio-based international firm produces flat-rolled carbon, stainless and electrical steel products for the automotive industry, infrastructure and manufacturing, electrical power generation and distribution markets. It employs about 9,400 at facilities in seven states as well as Canada and Mexico.

Filiatraut said she wondered whether leaders of LaBelle Iron Works, who established the plant, could have foreseen its long life.

The facility was established to produce coke to fuel six 50-ton furnaces used for steel production at the former Jefferson Iron Works facility in Steubenville.

The Wheeling-based LaBelle invested $5 million in a steel bridge across the Ohio River to connect the two facilities at a time when steel was in high demand both for the military engaged in World War I and the emerging auto industry.

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