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Two days after Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle said a deal to move Omaha Steel Castings to Wahoo, Neb., was falling apart, the company's president said his new factory will be ready to pour its first casting this June, months ahead of schedule.
Omaha Steel President Phil Teggart said concrete was poured at the site six weeks ago. And 25 semis are scheduled to deliver equipment to the site over the next few days, he said.
“As the owner of the company, I would think I'd know if there was a problem,” Teggart said. “There is absolutely nothing.”
Yet at a mayoral debate Tuesday with challenger Jean Stothert, Suttle made it sound as if the company's construction had hit a snag.
Stothert had pointed to Omaha Steel as an example of Suttle's administration driving businesses out of Omaha, which Suttle countered.
“The Wahoo deal is falling apart, and we're making efforts right now between my office and the Chamber (of Commerce) to bring them back and site them in north Omaha where they needed to be all along,” Suttle said at the debate, which was sponsored by The World-Herald and UNO Television.
“We are actively pursuing bringing them back to Omaha.”
Teggart said there was no truth to the mayor's assertion.
In fact, he said, he hadn't heard from anyone with the city or the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce in the 15 months since he decided to take his plant to Wahoo.
However, after The World-Herald started asking about Suttle's assertion, City Planning Director Rick Cunningham called Teggart two times Thursday afternoon.
“Do they think I'm going to put a $15 million plant on wheels and just roll it back to Omaha?” Teggart said. “I'm disgusted.”
Omaha Steel announced in January 2012 that it would move from 46th and Farnam Streets, where it had been for more than a century, to a larger location in Wahoo, where it could expand.
Teggart said he had wanted to stay in Omaha and looked at a handful of sites in the city. But after years of working with the city and the chamber, the company settled on the Wahoo property.
The decision, Teggart said, was based on a nearly $2 million difference in the cost of getting power to the plant and the narrow list of site options for heavy industrial operations considering Omaha.
Teggart told the Wahoo City Council on Thursday night that the company's move to the town was on track.
After the meeting, he said Suttle's statements had caused stress for his employees as well. “I had employees coming up to me asking, 'We're not moving?' ” he said.
Teggart said when he learned about the mayor's remarks, he watched a debate replay and immediately prepared a statement for employees that the company was committed to Wahoo, which is 40 miles west of Omaha.
Cunningham said the mayor asked him to look into the status of the Wahoo construction on Monday or Tuesday.
As far as he knows, he said, that was the extent of the “active” pursuit Suttle mentioned during the debate.
“It was a surprise to me when the mayor mentioned that he heard it hadn't been going well. Because it's been over a year,” Cunningham said.
Suttle's campaign spokeswoman said that the mayor had heard from the chamber in early March that the company might be having problems with the Wahoo site and that Suttle had asked Cunningham at that point to contact the company.
“When the mayor said he was hoping to work with Omaha Steel again, he was under the impression from his planning director that talks were taking place,” Aida Amoura, his spokeswoman, said in an email Friday.
Cunningham confirmed that account.
He said Friday that the mayor had contacted him on March 4, saying that he'd heard the Wahoo deal could be in trouble. Cunningham said the mayor requested that he gather information about the deal Omaha had offered the company, and that he give Teggart a call to check on the situation.
Cunningham said he got busy with other work and never made the call. He didn't try again until after the mayor brought it up again early this week.
"I dropped the ball on calling (Teggart) at that point in time," Cunningham said. "At that point in time, with what we had heard, somebody should have called him. That should have been me, and I didn't call."
Suttle, in a statement Friday, said he didn't intend to interfere with the plant's move.
“I was merely trying to let them know that we valued their business and if they were having problems, they would always be welcomed in Omaha,” Suttle said. “I was led to believe that they were communicating with us, and I'm truly sorry about any misunderstanding. We wish Mr. Teggart and Omaha Steel the best.”
World-Herald staff writers Erin Golden and Juan Perez Jr. and the World-Herald News Service contributed to this report.
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