FOLLANSBEE - Wheeling-Nisshin is going to introduce a new, highly corrosion-resistant hot dip coated steel sheet to U.S. markets in 2013.
Producing the new coating, known as ZAM, will require $28 million in equipment upgrades, a commitment company, community and government leaders say has the potential to create new jobs over the long term even as it saves existing positions.
"It's no secret they're not running at capacity right now," City Manager John DiSteffano said. "They'll be utilizing their existing people to do this. Once it's up and running and they make some inroads in the market, that's when they'll look at adding jobs."
$28M INVESTMENT — Wheeling-Nisshin Chairman Fumio Oda, seated, from left, and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Follansbee Mayor David Velegol listened intently Friday as Noboru Onishi, Wheeling-Nisshin’s president and CEO, standing, talked about his company’s $28 million investment in equipment for a new hot dip coating, ZAM, to be introduced in U.S. markets next year.
The ZAM coating, developed by Wheeling-Nisshin's parent company, Nisshin Steel Co. Ltd., is 91 percent zinc, 6 percent aluminum and 3 percent magnesium, making the steel more resistant to corrosion and scratches and thus can help customers streamline manufacturing processes. Because it's long-lasting and provides better corrosion resistance with a relatively light coating, it's a resource-saving product.
Wheeling-Nisshin President and CEO Noboru Onishi on Friday said it's a "natural extension for our current operations here in West Virginia and allows our company and employees to grow into a new area of production."
"We're spending $28 million because we see the potential," Onishi said. "The potential, we think, is great."
He said ZAM is "five- to 10-times stronger than existing coatings" and is suitable for a wide array of end-uses. "It's for anybody looking for higher, better corrosion resistance," he said. "Eventually, we'll be shifting from existing processes to that. It's not going to be overnight, very few people know about it yet. It will be an education process.
"We like to look into the future," Onishi added. "Japanese management philosophy is not to manage for today or tomorrow, but to ask where we will be five years from now or 10 years from now. Otherwise, we'd just be one of the companies. We like to distinguish Wheeling-Nisshin from the others."
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, in Follansbee Friday for the announcement, said he was "so pleased Wheeling-Nisshin decided to expand and invest in West Virginia."
"They have exclusive rights to ZAM, that's really something," he said, pointing out it translates into "good-paying jobs for good, hard-working people."
Tomblin said the upgrades make it "clear to us they are very committed to this operation. T investment is really about strengthening that company."
"The investment secures jobs that are here and positions the company to grow, we're very excited about that," he said. "It just makes this facility so much more viable over the long term."
Wheeling-Nisshin Chairman Fumio Oda pointed out 25 years have passed since the company's first hot dip line began operations.
"The future looks bright for Wheeling-Nisshin," Oda said, "and I'm proud to have been part of it."
Follansbee Mayor David Velegol, a chemical engineer, said many companies are cutting jobs and expenses in today's economy, which he said makes Wheeling-Nisshin's $28 million investment even more impressive.
"For Wheeling-Nisshin to come through and develop new technology, it's fantastic," Velegol said. "It means continued operations here in the city, more jobs in the city. It's outstanding."
Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, said the investment is big for the community.
"With some of the challenges we're facing in the Panhandle, it's particularly exciting that a company (like) Wheeling-Nisshin is making a $28 million investment into Brooke County. In addition to the investment, it's critical to preserving existing jobs."
Brooke County Commissioner Tim Ennis said it was great news.
"With the economy, the uncertainty we have today, anytime anybody is talking about expanding, (I'm) happy," Ennis said. "This company is in a competitive market - this keeps them competitive, and there's a possibility of (more jobs) with what they announced today."
Del. Phil Diserio, D-Brooke, said from its inception some 25 years ago, Wheeling-Nisshin "has always used local trades craftsmen."
"I'm very appreciative of that," said Diserio, who also is president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 246.
DiSteffano said Wheeling-Nisshin is a revenue-generator for the city, paying some $350,000 in Business and Occupation taxes yearly in addition to property taxes and water sales. "Plus, there's all the people employed here, who live here," he added.
In a press release issued after the announcement, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., instrumental in bringing Wheeling-Nisshin to Follansbee 26 years ago, said it's "great to see them advancing their efforts and continuing their commitment to the state."
"This is the company's largest investment to the aluminum and galvanizing line since it was commissioned," he said. "With this diversification, the company continues to meet the needs of the industry with the next generation of building materials."
In that same release, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., pointed out Wheeling-Nisshin "has produced a wide range of high-quality steel products, so today's news is not only great for the Northern Panhandle, but also for our entire state."
"Wheeling-Nisshin has witnessed firsthand our outstanding work force and understands that West Virginia is a great place to do business," Manchin said.