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Wheatland Tube to spend $30M at Howland plant

Wheatland Tube to spend $30M at Howland plant

HOWLAND — Wheatland Tube plans to invest $30 million at its Dietz Road NE steel pipe and tube plant to support growing industry demand and improve worker safety.

The 85,000-square-foot expansion will be a fully automated storage and retrieval warehouse that also will lead to greater productivity, a higher quality product and better customer service, Barry Zekelman, chairman / CEO of Zekelman Industries, said.

“We want our people to be safe,” Zekelman said. “A lot of the jobs they are doing out here are subject to the environment. You’re climbing up on product and up on trucks and moving it around with mobile equipment outside.”

He made the announcement Wednesday following a tour of the facility with U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan.

The warehouse will be connected to the plant’s IT and automated inventory management systems, giving the plant the ability to, for example, stage material on a Sunday night for pickup on a Monday morning.

“It’s really a move to move into the future and be able to keep up with the pace of doing business,” Zekelman said. “Everyone wants everything instantaneously now. We all order something on Amazon and are tracking the package. The steel industry is no different.”

The expansion will take about 18 months to complete. It will be to the north of the plant now.

Zekelman said Wheatland employees are the company’s “No. 1 asset,” and to keep them, the company has to remain an attractive place to work.

“We will be able to expand our output and create higher-paying jobs … keep our people here and put them on critical machines that produce the product rather than walking around out in the yard trying to find it, and give them the ability to move up the chain and earn higher wages and do it in a safer manner,” he said.

The facility employs about 150. Wheatland is a division of Zekelman Industries. The Howland plant mostly produces low pressure water, gas and air conveyance pipe for building infrastructure, but it does make a small percentage used in energy applications.

Ryan met with executive and union leadership to discuss steel trade issues. Plant workers are represented by United Steelworkers Local 9306.

He called for the U.S. to remain tough on trade policies that give American companies and workers the chance to compete globally free on foreign influence to undermine or circumvent trade laws.

“If we make the right decisions, if we are firm with China and other countries with saying, ‘no you can’t dump your products here, no you can’t cheat,’ I don’t think that is too much to ask, but if we level the playing field, we win,” Ryan, D-Howland, said.

Recent federal steel tariffs have helped stem the flow of pipe and tube imports into the U.S. According to Zekelman, total pipe and tube imports fell from 8.8 million tons in 2017 to 3.5 million tons in 2020, however, a decline in the oil and gas industry helped the decrease.

Imports of standard pipe, which is what is made at Wheatland, fell from 935,000 tons in 2017 to 510,000 tons in 2020, he said.

There’s also tremendous opportunity for growth as the U.S. moves more toward green energy production.

“We want to make sure those windmills and those solar panels are made with steel from United Steelworkers in American steel companies. That’s the goal … and we have an opportunity to do that, an opportunity like no other,” Ryan said.

rselak@tribtoday.com

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