Proposed iron carbide plant will fuel Shelby's economy

Montana State Roundup

Published April 1, 1995  | April 1995 issue

Shelby's "economic stool" was missing a leg until the Wyomont Corp., Denver, announced it would build a $130 million iron carbide plant that will employ 75 to 100.

Mayor Larry Bonderud says Shelby Iron Carbide Corp. is the "fourth leg of the economic stool" for this northwestern city of 2,800, 30 miles from the Canadian border. The other three legs are natural gas, agriculture and transportation.

Two of those "economic legs" were determining factors in the selection of Shelby for the plant by the Wyomont Corp. Shelby's proximity to a natural gas supply, to a major highway and rail lines and to potential iron carbide markets were major factors in the decision to build the plant there, according to Robert Clark Sr., Wyomont's chairman and chief executive officer. Clark also cited the "overwhelming support from the community of Shelby, the county and the state."

This support includes incorporating the 300-acre plant site into the city limits, assisting with environmental permitting and conducting social impact studies. But the Wyomont Corp. is financing, acquiring the land, conducting environmental studies and constructing the plant with $130 million in private funds.

Local officials expect the plant will play a long-term role in Shelby's economy because iron carbide is economical to produce, has few impurities and results in a stronger steel product. Iron carbide is used instead of scrap iron in the production of steel for automobiles and major appliances. Steel production with iron carbide does not require blast furnaces or coke ovens, thus removing a major source of environmental pollution. "There is not a mini-steel mill that is not interested in iron carbide," Clark says.

Potential markets for the iron carbide produced in Shelby include Canada, the western United States and the Pacific Rim. With the Burlington Northern rail connection in Shelby, the company may bring in iron ore from the Midwest and, on the return, transport iron carbide to mills in the Midwest. A pending merger between the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railroads could also open markets in southwestern United States and Mexico.

Plant construction begins later this spring, with completion expected in early 1997. Clark expects two major expansions at the Shelby plant before the turn of the century that would increase production from 2,000 tons to 6,000 tons of iron carbide per day.

Diane Wells