PLYMOUTH -- Despite lower production, Nucor Steel is making investments for the future.
Production was at its lowest point last year, but the company has spent about $18 million during the past few years to prepare for a comeback, said Dave Smith, vice president and general manager of the company's Plymouth plant.
The most recent purchase was a $4.4 million upgrade for the melt shop. Nucor purchased three electric arc furnace transformers and reactors, which Smith said will run the furnaces more efficiently.
Smith said Nucor was able to do that because of conservative business practices.
"We use downturns in the economy to prepare for the upturns," he said. "This is a cyclical business. When the economy goes down, we don't go into hiding and sit on our hands."
Smith said he couldn't give out plant-specific numbers, but that Nucor was close to industry averages. During good years, running at high levels, the steel plants were running at 96 percent of capacity, Smith said.
Last year it was 49 percent and is slowly increasing, but employees are still on reduced hours. Nucor has a no-layoffs policy.
This year is looking to be the second slowest in the past 15 years, he said, as the plant slowly comes back to higher production.
"Employee hours have risen. They're not where they need to be, but they're not hurting as bad," he said.
He said Nucor does most of its business with the construction industry, which has plummeted from 6 billion square feet of construction in 2005 to 2 billion in 2009.
Smith hopes the plant will be running near full capacity again within two years.
A lot of it depends on other industries and what Nucor's competitors do.
Smith said Nucor is financially the strongest large steel company in the United States.