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Arkansas Lawmakers Discuss Big River Steel Mill

Arkansas State lawmakers are considering funding $125 million for the the proposed Big River Steel Mill project in Northeast Arkansas.
LITTLE ROCK- Arkansas State lawmakers are considering funding $125 million for the the proposed Big River Steel Mill project in Northeast Arkansas.

A full committee room of legislators spent hours at the Capitol Monday night hearing from economists and asking questions. Many of their questions didn't get answered about the project, causing quite a bit of concern about the Big River Steel Mill.

Discussion at the meeting focused on financial risks associated with the project. Lawmakers seem hesitant the project will be economically beneficial for the state.

State Representative Nate Bell from District 20 says, "At this point we need to see a clear picture that this is going to be viable. Right now it's dependent on operating at near capacity pretty much all the time."

Bell says another concern is whether the state will ever see its investment money back. "We just need to know more. "

Not a lot of optimism about the project has some lawmakers suggesting going back to the drawing board with the proposal until there are more answers to the questions lawmakers are bringing up.

Bell says, "As we look at this project, we have to decide if the state as a whole will benefit from our investment."

David Branscum, State Representative from District 84, say the Big River Steel Mill will be profitable once it's up and running in the next 2-3 years. Branscum says bringing jobs to the region benefits the local economy. "I think it's a good investment. If it's worth doing, it's worth the investment. There are always risks to it anything we do."

Elias Scheker is one of the economists who prepared the reports for the legislature on the project. He says nothing is 100 percent without risk, and it's up to the legislators to decide what's best. "It's going to set a precedent for other future deals or incentive packages to be offered to such large organizations that wish to relocate in the area."

Scheker says the mill will create more than 500 jobs if the proposal goes through. "It's going to be a very important decision the legislators have to make."

The meeting lasted more 5 hours. The next step is for it to go to a vote.
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