MARQUETTE - Coming off a record year in 2010, officials at Cliffs Natural Resources are anticipating a strong year again in 2011, fed by global and national demand for steel.
Cliffs Executive Vice President and President of Global Commercial Donald Gallagher made his annual visit to Marquette this morning, addressing area community leaders on the status of Cliffs and its Michigan Operations.
"Right now, it's looking like a very strong year," Gallagher said.
Among the issues the company will be looking at this year, such as continuing to expand its coal operations around the globe and its new chromite deposit in Canada, is the potential expansion of the Empire Mine with a proposed iron nugget manufacturing facility, which would expand the lifetime of the mine beyond early 2015.
"While we haven't made a final determination, we're working through final engineering, we're working through final agreements with our partners. We're very excited to move forward with this," Gallagher said.
A decision on moving forward with the nugget plant is expected to come within the year to allow adequate time to access the ore body.
"It's got to be this year," Gallagher said of the decision.
Although electric furnaces - which would process the iron nuggets - haven't completely overtaken traditional blast furnaces there is still a market for the nuggets.
"The electric furnaces have taken a greater share of the market in North America, not what people thought where it was the demise of the blast furnace," he said. "The market has been growing ... It is and will continue to be a growing market for North America."
During the rest of his address today, Gallagher gave an overview of Cliffs' operations - not only North American iron ore prduction, but also the company's global production in coal and ore.
"Our core values are safety, environmental stewardship, the culture of this company is to work with all our stakeholders and make sure we have a sustainable operation," Gallagher said.
The Cliffs emphasis on safety was carried throughout the address, beginning with a reminder to the community to wear bright or reflective clothing while being active outdoors and going through a report on safety improvements over the past years.
"First and foremost is safety. If the job can't be done safely, the job doesn't need to be done. We'll find a way to do it safely or we won't do it," Gallagher said.
Driving much of Cliff's expansion has been growing demand in developing countries such as China.
"We're expecting 2011 to be even better as we're running all of our operations at or near capacity as the market is there to take the product," Gallagher said. "We're expecting much bigger things from '10 to '11."
The company's North American Iron Ore division provides around 62 percent of Cliffs' revenue.
Gallagher also gave an overview of recent Cliffs acquisitions, such as the chromite deposits in northern Canada which the company hopes to have under production in the next four years. The facility will either produce crude ore or create a ferrochrome product.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.