- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

OSCEOLA, Ark. (AP) - Steel industry leader John Correnti, who was the driving force behind three mills in eastern Arkansas and others out of state, has died while on a business trip in Chicago. He was 68.

It wasn’t immediately known what caused Correnti’s death on Tuesday; a public relations firm representing Big River Steel, of which he was the CEO and chairman, confirmed his death Wednesday. Correnti was in Chicago to attend a board meeting of Navistar International Corp., where he was a director, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

“When I heard about it, I just couldn’t believe it,” said chairman and CEO Tom Schueck of Lexicon Inc. and its affiliated companies, including Schueck Steel. He said he had seen Correnti a few weeks ago and spoke with him on Thursday.

“I didn’t think John was capable of dying,” Schueck said.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a Wednesday statement said his thoughts and prayers are with Correnti’s family.

“I am saddened to learn of the death of John Correnti,” he said. “He has been called a “steel man’s steel man,” and indeed his name was synonymous with the steel industry. I know that the team he put in place in Osceola will assure the success of Big River Steel, which will be one of John’s lasting legacies.”

Correnti helped guide the creation of the company’s $1.3 billion plant that’s still under construction near Osceola, plus two steel mills for Charlotte, North Carolina-based Nucor Corp. near Blytheville.

He started his career with traditional titan U.S. Steel, but jumped to challenger Nucor in 1980. He helped make Nucor a success, rising to CEO of the company, but was later pushed out in a management struggle in 1999.

Correnti also spearheaded construction of what it now the Steel Dynamics mill near Columbus, Mississippi, with he and other managers selling their shares to Russian company Severstal in 2007 as the mill was beginning operations. Steel Dynamics bought the mill from Severstal for $1.63 billion in 2014.

A perpetual entrepreneur, Correnti also was a minority investor in the construction of a $200 million silicon metal refinery in Tishomingo County, Mississippi.

The plant was moved there after Correnti had a dispute with economic development officials in the Columbus area over missed deadlines and his refusal to put down a deposit on a potential site.

Executive director George Hopkins of the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System, a major investor in Big River Steel, said Correnti “literally remade the steel industry in the United States.”

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