JOINT VENTURE. Japanese steel companies in US to stay

The Japanese are taking another significant step into the United States steel business. Yesterday the Nippon Steel Corporation and Inland Steel Industries announced that they would jointly build a facility in New Carlisle, Ind., near South Bend. The joint venture, called I/N Tek, would be one of only two rolling mills in the world using the most advanced technology, the two companies said.

Analysts suggest that Japanese steel companies are in the United States to stay. The Nippon-Inland deal is the latest of several joint ventures in steel the Japanese have established in the US.

``This [new mill] represents a major step for them in the US marketplace,'' says John Jacobson, director of the US and world steel service for Chase Econometrics. ``It's very likely that we'll see further investments by Japanese companies directly.''

For one thing, Japanese mills in the US would avoid any trade sanctions that Congress might pass. For another, the new mills are close to some of the biggest steel-using industries in the world. One of the major reasons for building the mill near South Bend is its proximity to markets, says Inland's chairman, Frank Luerssen.

When completed in 1990, the $400 million-plus mill will reduce production time of cold-rolled steel from an average of 12 days to less than an hour, Mr. Luerssen says. That will allow the mill to accommodate companies rapidly, using just-in-time delivery techniques. The steel will be marketed primarily to nearby automotive and appliance companies in Michigan and Indiana.

``There is a real shot in the arm,'' adds Indiana Lt. Gov. John Mutz. Indiana officials were particularly pleased because the new 200-employee mill mean additional construction and service jobs in northwest Indiana and will help maintain employment at Inland's East Chicago big steel plant. Inland Steel retains a 60 percent stake in I/N Tek; Nippon will hold the other 40 percent.

``The very future of the domestic steel industry depends on investments like this,'' adds Mr. Mutz. To attract the mill, the state put together an $18 million package of incentives, $12 million coming from federal and local sources.

The Indiana legislature will have to approve the additional $6 million in state money by the end of next month. But Mutz predicted easy passage for the proposal.

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