The Mills Group announced it has reached a tentative agreement with Matrix Metals-Sanmar Group to purchase Keokuk Steel Castings.
The purchase by owners Brad and Annie Mills of Houghton would mark the return of the plant’s ownership to Lee County for the first time since 1987.
“We are looking forward to becoming part of the proud history of Keokuk Steel Castings and guiding it to its full potential,” Brad Mills said.
The Mills Group began in 1990 and has a successful history of turning around manufacturing companies throughout the U.S.
Mills Group owns four manufacturing companies in Iowa that involve steel manufacturing of livestock handling equipment.
While meeting with local officials in Keokuk, the Millses said they are optimistic about rebuilding the workforce at this plant.
“We are very impressed with what we have found as to the skills, talent and dedication of the employees and management at KSC,” Brad Mills said. “We look forward to working together to uncover the many opportunities ahead of us.”
The Millses have met with Lee County Economic Development Group, Iowa Economic Development Authority, Lee County Supervisors, City of Keokuk officials, Keokuk Economic Development Corporation, as well as local and regional financial institutions.
“We are so pleased that Keokuk Steel Castings’ proud history of almost 80 years – and its impact on the Tri-State region can be further extended by this exciting new development,” said Steve Bisenius, executive director of LCEDG. “We welcome Brad and Annie Mills and their team with Mills Group, and we look forward to helping them every way we can as they build up their new plant. Three years ago, Keokuk Steel Castings employed more than 500 workers.
“We are very pleased how hard all of the officials in Keokuk have worked together to help make this come together and how warmly we were welcomed to the community,” Brad Mills said. “We also want to extend our special thanks to Mr. B. Natraj and his good people at Matrix Metals-Sanmar Group, for all of their effort to help make this transaction possible.”
Mills Group’s vision
“Our first objective is to get the foundry back up and running and reach out to the KSC customers,” Brad said. “A little further down the road, we have additional plans for Keokuk. We see the possibility of utilizing Keokuk as an expansion option for our other companies. We also see growing this location through additional acquisitions as we have done in Earlville.”
In the course of the Mills’ career, they have consolidated four businesses into two larger manufacturing plants in Earlville. Both plants have growth and expansion in their future.
“As long time local residents, we’re excited to start a second campus a little closer to home,” Annie Mills said.
History of Keokuk Steel Castings
Keokuk Steel Castings was built in 1915 on the bank of the Mississippi River in Keokuk, and used hydroelectric power from the newly built Keokuk dam.
One of its first contracts was manufacturing cannon barrels for World War I, according to research compiled by Keokuk librarian and historian Tonya Boltz.
Among other products, the plant made castings for John Deere Company tanks during World War II.
Prior to the 1973 flood, the Keokuk plant was in the process of renovation and expansion. However, the levee and flood wall, which had been erected to surround and protect the plant, broke on April 23, 1973, as the river reached 23.5 inches. The Army Corps of Engineers advised the firm that future floods would achieve new heights. Federal loans assisted the move to higher ground, between 218 and the 61 bypass, directly behind the Hoerner-Waldorf plant (where it’s located today).
The plant has changed hands several times over the past decades.
In 1987, NACO purchased the Keokuk foundry and operated it until it was acquired in 2001 by Jefferies Capital Partners, a New York equity firm.
The Sanmar Group of India acquired Matrix Metals-Keokuk Steel Castings Company in 2008.
In recent years, Keokuk Steel Castings has manufactured mining, oil-drilling and military equipment; nuclear valves and parts for high-speed trains.