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Steel, SSS have traveled on a long path together


When the annual event now known as Steel Success Strategies (SSS) kicked off three decades ago, Ronald Reagan was president, the Soviet Union was still in existence, the Internet was in its infancy, cellphones were practically the size of cinderblocks, the Dow Jones industrial average stood at nearly $1,900, No. 1 heavy melting was around $73 a ton and a ton of steel was about $480.

It is an understatement to say a lot has happened since then. During the past nearly 30 years there have been four presidents, six configurations of party controls in the U.S. Congress, the emergence of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), the rise of the Bric nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and much more. Within the steel sector, a number of companies have gone under, new ones have risen to replace them, end-user demand has evolved, sustainability has moved up the list of concerns and the price and availability of raw materials have become more volatile, among numerous other issues.

When hundreds of attendees gather June 8-10 in New York for SSS XXX, they face some of the biggest challenges of their careers, as imports, raw materials and economic struggles currently dominate daily business. But in a way, what’s new? A number of fat and lean cycles have repeatedly seen these issues create headaches during the last 30 years.

At the very first SSS in June 1986, key issues discussed included concerns over imports, the competitive impact of minimills on the integrateds, worries over the effect the value of the U.S. dollar could have on the industry, consolidation and its discontents, and issues of global capacity, to name just a few topics. If that all sound familiar, it’s because those very same topics will be key items on the minds of those attending this year’s SSS.

Alan Greenspan was a key speaker at that first SSS—then called Steel Survival Strategies—but this was before he became chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. He told attendees then that basic industry in the United States had been forced by imports to become “more competitive and viable” in the world market. Greenspan said the steel industry was not suffering from the economy’s shift to services but rather the shift to an economy of ideas.

Certainly the circumstances have changed, but what isn’t different is Greenspan’s insight on ideas—the need to share ideas, information and opinions across the steel sector to help develop new ways of approaching the challenges of the sectors.

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