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Chamber urges members to ‘help save’ AK jobs

By Thomas Gnau, Journal Business Writer, E-mail:

The Mid-Miami Valley Chamber of Commerce is going to bat for a business that isn’t a chamber member.

Of course, it’s not just any business. AK Steel Corp. is Middletown’s and Butler County’s biggest employer.

In a recent chamber newsletter, titled “Under Construction,” the chamber urges members to “help save” AK and area jobs.

Readers are urged to contact Gov. Bob Taft to impress on him how the loss of local AK jobs would affect the area.

Taft spokesman Orest Holubec said Wednesday the governor’s office has received 830 letters, e-mails and postcards on AK in the past two weeks.

“It’s heavy,” Holubec said.

With the chamber newsletter is a six-paragraph form letter to Taft, asking him to “resolve” economic challenges that AK’s leaders have said threaten about 1,000 high-paying jobs at AK’s Middletown Works.

AK has balked at the prospect of punitive fines from a state and federal lawsuit alleging that the company has broken environmental laws. With other possible air pollution control and maintenance costs looming over the Middletown Works’ “hot,” or steelmaking, end, AK officials have openly questioned the future of that side of the plant.

“The ripple effect of this job loss would further decimate our economy, our schools and our quality of life in Middletown and Southwestern Ohio,” the chamber’s letter says.

But Holubec said correspondence to Taft “is not going to change the environmental problems at the plant.” He said Taft and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Christopher Jones are willing to work “in good faith” with AK on those problems.

Though AK resigned from the chamber in April, the chamber’s continued support makes sense to AK Vice President of Public Affairs Alan McCoy.

“We’ve indicated that we’re certainly receptive to rejoining the chamber,” McCoy said. “So no, I don’t see it as ironic.”

With some 4,000 area employees at its Curtis Street corporate headquarters and its Middletown plant, AK is the area’s “No. 1 employer,” McCoy said.

“That affects many of the other employers,” he said.

AK left the chamber on the same day Stanley Chesley — a Cincinnati attorney who has litigated against AK — appeared as the invited speaker at a chamber luncheon in April.

In the weeks following AK’s withdrawal, the chamber president and the chairman of its board of directors quit. Former Armco and local chamber executive Richard Slagle has worked as an interim director. Slagle could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The chamber letter also invites Taft to visit Middletown and meet its citizens and civic leaders.

Holubec said he hasn’t spoken with Taft about such a visit.

Published 06.26.03



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