The Lackawanna Steel Company was a steel manufacturing company that existed as an independent company from 1840 to 1922, and as a subsidiary of the Bethlehem Steel Company from 1922 to 1983.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Bethlehem Steel allowed the Lackawanna Steel plant to become obsolete. Foreign competition made it financially impossible to continue to manufacture most of the products produced at Lackawanna.
Bethlehem Steel also did not want to spend millions of dollars on air and water pollution abatement, which were required by New York State and federal authorities. The opened a new facility in Indiana, where human health and environmental regulations were more lax.
In 1982, Bethlehem Steel announced the closing of nearly all production at the Lackawanna Steel plant near Buffalo.
On January 7, 2021, the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded a $2.7 million grant to the Buffalo Erie County Industrial Land Development Corporation in Buffalo.
The funding will enable the installation of new water and sewer systems that will help revitalize the long-vacant Bethlehem Steel Plant site in nearby Lackawanna.
This EDA grant, which is located in an Opportunity Zone, will be matched with $670,000 in local funds. It’s expected to help create 100 jobs and generate $18 million in private investment.
“This project is vital to rebuilding Erie County’s economy,” said Dana Gartzke, Performing the Delegated Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development.
“Bringing new private investment to the Bethlehem Steel plant site, which also serves as a designated Foreign Trade Zone, means new jobs for local residents. The project’s location in an Opportunity Zone will further transform the local and regional economy,” Gartzke added.
This project is funded under the Assistance to Coal Communities (ACC) program, through which EDA will award funds on a competitive basis to assist communities severely impacted by the declining use of coal through activities and programs that support economic diversification, job creation, capital investment, workforce development, and re-employment opportunities.
The newly-announced funding goes to one of New York’s 514 Opportunity Zones. Created by the mostly-failed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, Opportunity Zones have been making some small progress in spurring economic development in economically-distressed communities nationwide.
“This EDA investment will provide the region with ample opportunities for near-term development, ultimately leading to the diversification of the regional economy to support advanced manufacturing and create jobs for the people of New York,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.
In June 2019, EDA added Opportunity Zones as an Investment Priority, which increases the number of catalytic Opportunity Zone-related projects that EDA can fund to fuel greater public investment in these areas.
Historic 1968 photo of the Bethlehem Steel Plant in Lackawanna is by U.S. Department of the Interior / Jet Lowe, photographer.