Starting from Scrap - The Bend Magazine

Starting from Scrap

A recycling and manufacturing facility is opening robust opportunities for South Texas, and going green in the process

Photography by Tyler Schultz

Years ago, the Corpus Christi Regional Economic Development Corporation (CCREDC) discovered something interesting — and the rest, as they say, was history.

“Nearly seven years ago, the CCREDC conducted a target analysis study on steel mill manufacturers, and about 18 months after that, and after a couple of other near misses with other steel producers, were introduced to Steel Dynamics. Their demonstrated company values with an employee-based spirit complemented our South Texas values,” said Iain Vasey, CCREDC president and CEO.

Steel Dynamics’ Sinton plant, specializing in industrial metal recycling and manufacturing, came online in 2022. The 2,200-acre steel mill has been met with local community enthusiasm to diversify and help drive the South Texas economy. “We are excited that Steel Dynamics chose the Corpus Christi region. The CCREDC is looking forward to continuing to support them,” said Vasey. 

“We want to be a good neighbor,” said Dennis Black, General Manager of Flat Roll Group Southwest, Steel Dynamics, Inc. “We want to be a good place to work, and for people to be proud to work here.” This mission is already underway, with the plant creating hundreds of new opportunities for South Texas residents. “Steel Dynamics, Inc. will create approximately 600 jobs for the Corpus Christi area,” said Vasey. In addition, there are a number of companies that are co-locating with SDI that will likely bring the total employment number on the campus to around 2,000. That number of high–paying jobs will have a significant positive impact on the region’s economy.

Known as one of the largest, most diversified steel producers in the United States, Steel Dynamics produces metals across industries and markets. In Sinton, SDI is producing flat rolled steel that can be further upgraded in its new cold mill. The cold mill will further reduce the steel thickness as well as provide painting and galvanizing capabilities. In addition to steel coil production, SDI also operates six other steel mills, a copper mill, an aluminum mill and many scrap recycling facilities throughout North America. “At this point we are the only flat roll mill significantly west of the Mississippi,” said Black. An electrical engineer by trade, Black helped build the business in its early years — now having been with the organization over the past 26 years. 

Steel Dynamics originated as one of the only steel companies to conduct and operate its own in-house painting station within its facility. Over the years, it has entered new industries with expanding technologies and new product demand. Its ability to recycle used products places it in a good position to expand into diverse markets. With an established sustainability lens and upcoming targets for 2025, the company is aiming for a “cleaner” and more efficient operation model in upcoming years.

Throughout 2021, the organization worked diligently to open the Sinton location, despite challenges from the ongoing pandemic. With materials sourced globally, supply chain halts had substantial effects. But just as it pulled through the financial crisis of 2008, Steel Dynamics, Inc. has persevered through roadblocks and COVID-19 difficulties. Black cites its operational processes and employee-driven company culture, in tandem with the company’s existing infrastructure, as what fuels its success.

Its national network of processing plants spans Ohio, Mississippi, Indiana, Texas, West Virgina, Virginia, plus many other states and Mexico, supplying products throughout the U.S. and much of North America. Consumer interest and style trends have elevated the demand for metal in the construction industry. In addition, the market for consumer appliances such as washers, dryers and microwaves has picked up for Steel Dynamics during the global supply chain shortage. 

“A lot of the corrugated metal roofing comes from our steel,” said purchasing agent Brad VanZant. “And the automotive industry is still really strong.” 

Those demands make South Texas a particularly useful spot for manufacturing, with rail access to distribution across the United States allowing Steel Dynamics to serve clients on the east and west coasts.

Recycling: Sustainability, Goals & Initiatives

Steel Dynamics’ founding principles of “valuing teams, partners, communities and environment” work as a system within the organization. The Sinton Division, along with the Mexico facility, produces lower-carbon emission steel that supports quality steel manufacturing. Through the use of Electric Arc Furnace technology, Steel Dynamics processes scrap to manufacture into products. 

One of the largest metal recyclers in the United States, its existing business model drives in the direction of a circular economy. “The term ‘mini mill’ comes from the melting process with electricity to get it to liquid steel,” explained Black. “Old integrated mills are less friendly to the environment, making this a step up in quality and surface quality.” Its focus on going green also shines in how recycling metals operations utilize ferrous and non-ferrous scrap metal from determined end-of-life products. This reinforces the recyclability of large, heavy, non-decomposing metal products that would have no future functional use — unless repurposed or recycled. Employees deconstruct these pieces to melt usable steel and metal components, reassuring the metal’s integrity.

By 2050, Steel Dynamics has dedicated its sustainability goals to reach carbon neutrality. And by 2025, it aims to see a 20% reduction within Scope 1 and Scope 2 of combined greenhouse gas emissions — with an increase of 10% renewable energy use within the same year. The plant has a symbiotic relationship with electricity–run systems. “We really are tied to the carbon footprint of the utility,” said Black. “The greener the grid, the more it helps us.” 

Steel Dynamics also supplies steel used for ground mounts and supports for solar arrays. With existing issues and delays in the supply chain, the demand has opened up another market for the steel company to service the renewable space; locally manufactured products provide easier accessibility for U.S. and Texas-based companies. 

Community: Giving Back

Steel Dynamics is passionate about supporting its employees and communities. “It’s good to know you are coming into a community like Sinton,” said VanZant. 

One example is how the company supports the education of its workers and their families, offering each of its employees’ children $5K per year for four years, totaling $20K in education paid for by the company.

This support extends deep into the community, too. “We are helping with the little league baseball fields and are donating to the fire department,” said VanZant.

When contacted by a local high school about where to purchase I–beams for a new building, Steel Dynamics made them in-house, and ultimately decided to donate multiple beams. While these gestures may be about buildings, Steel Dynamics knows it really contributes something into the community at large. As Black said, “It’s really about the people.”