Tube City Almanac

December 06, 2007

Steel Life

Category: Local Businesses, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

With all due respect to U.S. Steel, I don't think they know what they're doing.

Steelmaking in Pittsburgh is dead. The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership says so. says so. The blogging community says so. I mean, if you can't trust bloggers, who can you trust?

Anyway, we have moved past steel in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to change their name to the Pittsburgh Biotechs. We're now known not for steel but for our new chief export, population.

That's why I can't understand why U.S. Steel, which netted $1.37 billion last year, is opening a new training center in Duquesne (at 1 S. Linden St., on the site of the old Duquesne Works).

I can't think of a worse place than Duquesne to open a steel training facility. Everyone knows it was lazy, unionized steelworkers from the Mon Valley who destroyed American industry. All the pundits in Washington said so. (Oh, and those "ironmaster awards" that Duquesne Works received in 1984 for productivity? Pay no attention to those.)

It gets worse, of course. I read that U.S. Steel plans to invest $1 billion in the Clairton Coke Works.

U.S. Steel apparently will use its own money to replace two coke batteries, rebuild six other coke batteries, and increase its electrical power-generating capacity.

Using its own money? That's crazy talk. Companies don't do that any more. They threaten to move to Charlotte or Kansas City, and they get money from the taxpayers. Hell, if it worked for the Pirates, Biotechs and Penguins, it would work for U.S. Steel.

And if you take the tax money, it's not like you have to live up to your end of the deal. How many times were the taxpayers of Allegheny County and Pennsylvania bent over for U.S. Airways?

Maybe U.S. Steel stock is selling near an all-time high, and maybe mutual funds are buying shares like crazy, though it's hard to believe that all of the public-relations experts and pundits who are trying to "re-image Pittsburgh" could be wrong.

Sure, maybe U.S. Steel CEO John Surma knows what the hell he's doing.

But if he's really smart, he'll take my advice, and open a research facility to develop maglev trains, or build a racetrack-casino, or lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike, or build a speculative strip-mall shopping center. Lord knows, we don't have enough cruddy, half-empty strip malls.

As far I'm concerned, Surma's idea that you can make money by actually manufacturing things is pretty quaint. After all, that's what the Chinese are for.

. . .

In Other News: Pitt has received $41.3 million in donations from John Swanson, founder of Ansys Inc. The university is renaming its school of engineering in his honor.

It shouldn't surprise you to learn that there's a Mon-Yough connection. Swanson developed his theories of computerized stress analysis while working for the former Westinghouse Astronuclear Laboratory on Route 51 in Large, Jefferson Hills borough, located in the old Large Distillery.

Since microcomputers weren't available when Swanson was doing his research in the 1960s, he rented time on a mainframe owned by ... yep, U.S. Steel. They're still in business, right?

. . .

Speaking of Steel: I just learned that it's the 110th anniversary of the opening of the former U.S. Steel Christy Park Works. Now known as CP Industries, the plant on Walnut Street in the city's Christy Park neighborhood manufactures seamless high-pressure tanks to store natural gas and other pressurized chemicals and compounds.

Major customers include the aerospace and chemical industries, construction companies, food processors, health care providers, nuclear power companies, oil and gas businesses, undersea explorers, and manufacturers of natural gas vehicles.

You can take an online tour at CP's website.

Yep, it's another company making things out of steel in the Mon Valley. Insane, or just crazy like a fox? Hmm.

. . .

Festival of Trees: McKeesport's annual Festival of Trees opens today at 12 noon at Jacob Woll Pavilion in Renziehausen Park. Community groups from all over the area have decorated dozens of Christmas trees in different themes and motifs.

Santa Claus will be on hand daily, and the city public works department will be providing sleigh rides through Renzie Park tonight and tomorrow night, and all day Saturday and Sunday. The McKeesport High School alumni association will provide refreshments, and the nearby McKeesport Heritage Center will be open for special hours.

If you've never been there, it is definitely worth a visit; the event continues through Sunday. Call (412) 675-5068 for more information, or click here for directions.

Your Comments are Welcome!

Had US Steel had leadership like Mr. Shurma in the 60’s and 70’s, McKeesport would still be a town of near 60,000!

US Steel was not positioned to compete in a global market and though they were smacked (ok, McKeesport, Duquesne, Homestead & Pittsburgh were smacked) in the 1980’s, the company was paying for the near sighted faults of their fathers.

Sure, Labor costs got too high. However, had they been investing in technology at rates similar to the Japanese, Candaian & Italian Steel Makers, they would not have lost their competitive edge.

Too many MBA’s, not enough street smarts. Everyone was interested in making “their” numbers look good for THIS quarter with no vision or regard to the future. They, along with many other corporate failures of their era (ie Westinghouse) never HAD to compete in a global market to that point because our domestic economy was enough to make them wealthy.

We’ve lost manufacturing.

We are losing service to the Asian countries.

What’s left? Politics, Wal-Mart, McDonalds and blogging?

Our country is at a critical juncture. We don’t have the manufacturing capability to fight a prolonged real war. If we don’t correct this soon (and Maglev offers one opportunity to do so) we are doomed as a world power.

If we didn’t learn from our mistakes in steel, auto, etc.. we are destined to lose all the high paying service and technology jobs as well.

My 2 cents.

p.s. Good luck to your Eagles. Good hoop game tonight as our #1 ranked Tigers take on last years section champ Fox Chapel at 7:30at neenie Campbell Gym.
paul (URL) - December 07, 2007

Some silly 100+ year old company in Wilmerding is still trying to manufacture stuff too. Silly WABCO. Who needs trains? Union Railroad? Duh!
Mace - December 10, 2007

Pittsburgh was is and always will be the center for the greatest steel manufacturing in the world that cheap steel thats comes from china mexico india etc… can not even compete with OUR quality. And as far as “lazy union workers” that may have been a part of why homestead duquesne and mckeesport closed but its not the whole truth and as far as Clairton coke works you can go to hell on your comments about U.S.Steel I happen to be an electrician for U.S. Steel Clairton Works and i think its great they are investing money in the valley not all of us could have afforded to go to college to design your mag lev train(don’t worry the japs will design and the chinese will build it anyhow) and we depend on manufacturing jobs. By the way i am union Local 1557 and i sure as hell ain’t lazy.
Jim Brahn - February 09, 2008

To comment on any story at Tube City Almanac, email, send a tweet to, visit our Facebook page, or write to Tube City Almanac, P.O. Box 94, McKeesport, PA 15134.