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Barge access, construction lured plant to Decatur

By Eric Fleischauer 340-2435

Barge access and a thriving nonresidential construction market persuaded Independence Tube to locate in Decatur, and have spurred it to embark upon a recently announced expansion, said its Chicago-based vice president of marketing, John Tassone.

Tassone, introduced by Woody Hamilton, spoke Thursday to the Kiwanis Club of Decatur.

"This is a growing part of the U.S. from a construction standpoint," Tassone said, "and it was difficult to ship to the region without a plant here."

Independence Tube's 310,000-square-foot Decatur plant makes square and rectangular structural tubing, most of which can be seen in large commercial structures such as Lowe's or The Home Depot.

Tassone said the plant purchases carbon-steel coils — about one-third come from its neighbor, Nucor — and slits them into narrower coils. It then forms them into structural tubes between 20 and 70 feet long. Depending on the needs of the customer, it performs additional processing of the tubes.

In addition to construction, the tubes are used for truck booms, trailer hitches and tractor equipment.

The company employs 30 in Decatur.

That number will double after its ongoing expansion is complete, Tassone said.

The structural tube market is closely aligned to the steel business, Tassone said. The low-price steel a few years ago helped Independence Tube, but resulted in a steel industry consolidation — with victims that include Trico Steel and survivors that include Nucor — that has more than quadrupled steel prices.

The major threat to the domestic steel industry, Tassone said, comes from heavily subsidized steel imported from China.

He said the U.S. government has had some success slowing the imports of coiled steel, but China is now targeting companies like Independence Tube. The country's coiled-steel exports have dropped, but its export of structural tube has gone up.

Tassone said the U.S. consumes more steel than it produces.

"We need more steel," he said, "but we need it to be priced fairly."

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