When Wheeling-Nisshin Inc. set up business in Follansbee in 1986, it was with the intention of creating an international joint venture between Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel and Nisshin Steel of Japan. At that time, there were no Japanese owned or partially owned steel companies in the United States, and Nisshin Steel was eager to expand into the America marketplace.
Since then, it has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Nisshin Steel, the operation size has doubled, and with 175 employees, it is a major employer for the northern panhandle of West Virginia.
Wheeling-Nisshin has become one of the word’s leaders in provided coated steel for things like automobiles, furniture, appliances and construction material.
“We purchase coils of steel from different companies and apply a coat of either molten zinc or aluminum onto the strip,” explained Nick Cortese, general manager of Human Resources and Public Relations. “Then we roll it back up and ship it out. One of the slang terms is that ‘we dip it and ship it.’ Those are very simplistic terms, and there’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s basically what we do.”
The decision to build the new company in Follansbee had a lot to do with location, a reliable pool of workers, a ready supply of materials, and support from state and local governments.
“The place where we built is on one of the old Wheeling-Pittsburgh sites owned by our original partner,” Cortese said. “The property was closed-down and available, so all we had to do was clear the old plants out and build the new green-fields site from the ground up. The availability of a good work force that was interested in staying and maintaining in the Ohio Valley area was one of the considerations. It’s a good location because we need to purchase steel in order to coat it, and there are enough regional suppliers to get the steel here in a timely manner. And we had a lot of cooperation from the state government, the county government and the local government, as well as then-Governor Jay Rockefeller’s office and the local people here in Follansbee.”
Assistance at the startup of the company resulted in the successful, self-sustaining operation of today, according to Cortese.
“If you go back to the beginning, we were a new company dealing with the state through their employment office and they were providing us with applicants. We were able to receive a HUD loan that was very beneficial. Right now, we’re a very viable and successful company and haven’t had to look for loans or specialized services, and are able to do everything on our own.”
Wheeling-Nisshin draws employees from the surrounding area as well as Follansbee, including Pittsburgh and Wheeling, and the roll has remained stable over the years.
“I think that one of the keys as to why we don’t have a lot of turnover is that the bulk of our employees grew up here and didn’t want to leave like others who went to DC or the Carolinas to get good work. We’re able to provide good jobs to keep these people dedicated to our company. They view this as a good place to raise children and that there are good educational opportunities. It also has close proximity to Pittsburgh and Wheeling for more activities. Our employees enjoy it here and want to stay here for a long time.”