Ellwood Group is one of the few steel forging companies left in America. Its leaders are asking federal legislators to help make sure the materials they provide to the Defense Department are used instead of foreign steel
Steel contracts mean steel jobs : That is the message officials at the Ellwood Group gave to U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-16, Butler, Thursday afternoon as they lobbied for his help in making sure the Defense Department is using steel forging from American plants instead of relying on foreign steel.
Kelly toured the company’s New Castle complex and learned how ingots bigger than a school bus can be turned into pivotal pieces of equipment for the nation’s battleships and jet fighter planes, as well as the commercial airliners taking grandparents on their annual pilgrimage to see the grandchildren in Texas. David Barensfeld, chairman of the Ellwood Group’s board of directors, and president and CEO until earlier this year, said his company can provide all the steel materials the Defense Department needs, it just needs to be giventhe opportunity. Ellwood Group, which has nine metal works companies in 25 locations throughout North America under its umbrella, including Ellwood City Forge, the company that began it all in 1910, is one of the few in the nation to still provide steel forging and is the only one to invest in new facilities in recent years, Barensfeld said. He said North American Foremasters, one of three related companies at the New Castle complex, has sent messages to the Pentagon that it is ready to serve the military’s needs, but there have been rumblings that the Defense Department instead is looking to use cheap foreign steel, which officials said does not have near the quality produced at American plants.
Michael Kamnikar, president of North American Forgemasters, which is actually a joint venture of Ellwood City Forge and Scot Forge, said the idea of relying on foreign steel for defense machinery also is a bad idea because it makes the nation vulnerable to being cut off from delivery of necessary equipment if a conflict should occur.
He said the military can have all the nice looking ships and planes it wants, but they are just pretty things to look at stuck in stockyards and airfields without the right parts.
Barensfeld said the Buy America Act is supposed to require the federal government to give preference to American-made products and that has been a push of the current administration, so he is struggling to understand why his industry has been left out. He noted all the attention on steel tariffs lately neglects to mention steel forgings was not included, which leaves the industry at the mercy of countries such as China and India.
As he stood a short distance from a 90-ton ingot being heated to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit as it was going through the process of being pressed into shape for a 69-foot-long shaft for a battle cruiser, Kelly agreed companies such as Ellwood Group should be given preference. He said the Pentagon looking overseas for steel is counter to what the administration says it wants.
Kelly also expressed shock that steel forgings was left out of tariff language and said he would further investigate the situation.
Company leaders pressed Kelly on whether legislation could be implemented to help companies like Ellwood Group. Kelly responded that it can be tough to get legislation through the system, but he said that could change if more legislators saw what people like the workers at Ellwood Group do.
Ellwood Group officials already are planning meetings with other federal legislators, including Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17, Mount Lebanon, who is set to visit the Ellwood City Forge on Friday afternoon.
“We’re here to stay,” Barensfeld said. “But we have to be given the opportunity.”