The Geneva Steel Plant near Orem was the largest and most significant of several defense-related industries developed in Utah during the World War II period. The $200 million plant was financed by the federal government to insure that the nation’s steel industry would be able to meet the increased demand for steel by both military and industrial users. The actual construction and operation of the plant was turned over to Columbia Steel Company and the U.S. Steel Corporation. Approximately 10,000 workers were involved in the construction project, which extended from November 1941 to December 1944. Shortages of construction workers, equipment, and materials delayed the completion of the plant and made it more costly than planned.
The decision to build the plant at this location was based on several factors. The necessary raw materials were all within a reasonable distance–coal deposits in Carbon County, iron ore from Iron County, limestone and dolomite near Payson, and water from Deer Creek Reservoir and on-site artesian wells. Other advantages were the proximity of the site to major railroad lines and the availability of an educated and stable local work force. The plant’s inland location, though far from major markets, was selected as a precaution against steel shortages in the West in case of a Pacific coast invasion or closure of the Panama Canal. This became an issue of increasing concern after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
The plant opened in December 1944 but operated for only two years as a U.S. government facility. During that time its primary products were plate steel and structural shapes for the West Coast wartime shipbuilding industry. With the end of the war in August 1945, production at the plant was greatly reduced. The government began soliciting buy-out offers from steel manufacturers, and in June 1946 accepted a $47.5 million bid from U.S. Steel, with the stipulation that the company invest another $18.6 million in converting the plant to peacetime operations. The actual value of the state-of-the-art plant was estimated at more than $144 million.
Since its construction, Geneva has had a significant impact on the local economy of Utah County. It has provided thousands of well-paying jobs and attracted a number of ancillary industries, such as fabricating plants. After more than forty years of operation, the plant was shut down in early 1987 due to a combination of factors: increased foreign competition, higher labor costs, and the corporate policies of USX (formerly U.S. Steel). It started up again later that same year under new ownership–Basic Manufacturing and Technology of Utah, Inc.
Today, Geneva faces the challenges of many “smokestack” industries competing in a worldwide economy. By lowering production and labor costs, adopting new technologies, and implementing new marketing and management strategies the plant is working to retain its position as a profitable and important industry in the state.