NEW GLASGOW – The sounds coming from Maritime Steel over the past few weeks mark a change from the now familiar silence.
Pictured is work being done the first day the foundry reopened under Abbas Jafarnia in Dec. 2011. The business has been closed for months but Jafarnia hopes it could reopen soon. FILE PHOTO
The continuous humming and droning of machinery hasn’t been heard for many months at the century-old foundry.
Trucks carrying waste, rusted machinery and mountains of dust have been making trips in and out of the Maritime Steel property, owned by Abbas Jafarnia.
He watches as cranes lift old machinery that has sat derelict on the property for years.
“We’re cleaning things up and doing a better job,” he said.
Since Jafarnia, the foundry’s former quality control manager, took over the operation after winning with a $1.25-million bid for the business, the foundry has yet to keep its doors open without interruption and workers employed.
He believes he has the skills and knowledge to turn the business around and make millions of dollars but just needs the capital to get started.
“It’s like a car without gas. Once we have that, we’ll be going strong,” he said.
News of another potential investor, with contracts valued at $15-million, has provided a glimmer of hope for Jafarnia and Maritime Steel’s unemployed and underemployed workers.
“They are interested in coming down here, they have seen our product, they know that we are capable, they know our machines and the price is good.”
Lacking support or lacking a plan
While he is looking to strike while the iron is hot, Jafarnia must register the foundry in Nova Scotia’s Registry of Joint Stock Companies and apply for permits from Nova Scotia Environment. The latter could take 60 days.
“They know that I’m in a rush and that it’s very critical to close the deal. But I’m in the process of doing the public consultation and paying fees.”
Jafarnia believes that these permits are yet another example of how Maritime Steel’s supporters abandoned him when he won the bid for the foundry.
“Since I came here, I was trying to run a business and not play politics. But unfortunately, Nova Scotia is suffering from being too involved in politics, the business of Nova Scotia,”
He compared the municipal councils of Mississauga, Ont., and Pictou County. A mayor and 11 councilors govern Mississauga, population of over 700,000, while six municipal units and around 40 councilors govern Pictou County’s 45,600 residents.
“How the hell are these people capable of having the same idea? The more people involved the more difficult it is to make a decision,” said Jafarnia. “Look at how many politicians are in Nova Scotia to make decisions. Have they been successful? No.”
Pictou Centre MLA Ross Landry disagrees and stated that he has bent over backwards to support Maritime Steel. The problem, Landry said, is with Jafarnia and his flawed business plan.
“I’m all for jobs if they have a sound business plan. This government has been nothing but 100 per cent supportive of Mr. Jafarnia but there are rules and procedures that have to be followed.”
The province denied Jafarnia’s request for a $1.1 million loan last year, stating it was too risky.
On Aug. 1, Minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism Graham Steele reached out to The News and other media to, according to Steele, set the record straight.
“We’re ready and willing to do business, but we need to have all of the information so we can do so responsibly. It is his responsibility to provide the necessary information; he has not done so.” said Steele.
Landry agreed, noting that the government has never been against anyone looking to create jobs in Nova Scotia.
“I brokered a number of meetings with and for Mr. Jafarnia. But to be honest this has been a tiring process,” said Landry. “The issue isn’t just with us, it’s with him, ACOA, private business and banks. You can’t meet with a government official and walk out the door when you don’t get your own way.”
PC leader Jamie Baillie met with Maritime Steel workers and Jafarnia on Aug. 1 and said he was baffled by the series of events that had occurred.
At odds with the town
Less than a week after Maritime Steel went into receivership, the Town of New Glasgow was envisioning a downtown without the foundry.
On Jan. 2, 2011, councilor Henderson Paris noted that while his thoughts were with the families, Maritime Steel’s closure could be seen as an opportunity.
“Just envisioning what could be there. It could be like our little Halifax on the waterfront,” said Paris. “We have a beautiful trail and a riverfront and Glasgow Square. It could be exciting.”
In an email to Jafarnia on Mar. 15, 2013, Mayor Barrie MacMillan said the town would not be attending any meetings with Maritime Steel and the province.
“After careful consideration and review of the Town’s position related to the current location of Maritime Steel I do not believe it is in the best interest of the Town of New Glasgow to attend any meetings with the Province of Nova Scotia.”
MacMillan said the town has never been privy to Jafarnia’s business plan, which is why they couldn’t advocate for him.
“Our position has remained the same: we hoped that the business would remain viable and operate in a suitable location,” he said. “We’ve heard concerns from the workers and their families in person. We’ve also had complaints from people in the neighborhood about having this industry in town.”
Differences too great
Jafarnia’s house in Stellarton is slightly different from the rest on the street. Housewrap covers the exterior walls as renovations that started years ago have been put on hold.
“I haven’t finished my house,” he said. “People may think I’m poor. I don’t care about what people are thinking about me. I care about what I’m supposed to do and that’s get that business up and running and get the workers back to work.”
According to Jafarnia, issues with his Iranian investors, the sanctions against Iran and his own nationality have bred misunderstanding and racism.
“Put yourself in my shoes. Imagine you brought roughly $2 million to the table to run a business in Nova Scotia, create jobs and be a member of the community and all you receive is lack of support, racist remarks in your building and hardship all around this business. Would you be happy?”
According to Jafarnia, the workers are supporting him because they believe if he leaves, no one will try to resurrect Maritime Steel.
“I’m trying to run this business and I’m not expecting everyone to be happy. I’m expecting to do the right thing for myself. The right thing in my view, is to help my colleagues, those who have been working with me in the last few years.”
For now, the workers and their families will wait to see if Jafarnia is able to close this latest contract. Until then, trucks continue to carry away outdated equipment, deteriorated supplies that, in their heyday, was part of a great but fading tradition of steel work in Pictou County.
On Twitter: @NGNewsJohn
May 2010: Maritime Steel structure, used by the company for storage, destroyed by fire.
December 2010: Maritime Steel forced into receivership when Cameron Corp. Ltd. called in a $17.75 million loan.
January 2011: “It could be like our little Halifax on the waterfront. It could be exciting,” said New Glasgow Town Councillor Henderson Paris.
February 2011: One of the unions that represents workers at Maritime Steel says a bid by 3D Auto Parts is the only "viable" solution for the long-term success of the New Glasgow foundry. The other bid is from Abbas Jafarnia.
March 2011: Abbas Jafarnia, who submitted the highest bid for Maritime Steel ($2.9 million), asked for an extension to meet his conditions for buying the facility.
June 2011: The owners of 3D Auto Parts have instructed their lawyer to withdraw its bid Tuesday for the Maritime Steel plant.
August 2011: It's official – Abbas Jafarnia is the new owner of Maritime Steel on New Glasgow's riverfront.
August 2011: Mayor MacMillan says citizens are concerned and disappointed over the sale and the provincial environmental approval given for the Maritime Steel
December 2011: Workers at Maritime Steel got down to business Thursday morning as molten steel was poured for the first time in a year.
January 2012: After being turned down for a government loan last year, Jafarnia’s financial backers in Iran haven’t been able to send him money for the past few months because of the political pressures in that country.
February 2012: Abbas Jafarnia, the owner of the New Glasgow foundry, sat quietly in the dark of his boardroom Wednesday morning. The power had just been shut off due to non-payment of bills and he’d just sent his 20 employees home
March 2012: Maritime Steel workers were back on the job Friday, confirmed owner Abbas Jafarnia
July 2012: The Nova Scotia government rejected a $1.1-million loan application by the steel foundry in February saying it was too risky. It's the second time Jafarnia's loan application has been rejected by the province – he was turned down for a $2-million loan application in June 2011.
August 2012: More than 50 workers, friends and family gathered Saturday morning to protest the closing of Maritime Steel and lack of financial support from the government. The group met in front of Maritime Steel and marched to Pictou Centre MLA Ross Landry’s office, where Landry was awaiting the group.
November 2012: The owner of Maritime Steel told workers Thursday he needs to pay them less for the foundry to survive.
December 2012: Maritime Steel owner Abbas Jafarnia says he’s received word from the Nova Scotia Department of Economic Development that they are going to help him do up a business plan, but he’s not holding his breath.
July 2013: A break and enter that resulted in thefts and vandalism at Maritime Steel contained racist comments and foul language.
August 2013: A meeting between provincial Conservative leader Jamie Baillie, Abbas Jafarnia and about 20 former staff members of Maritime Steel and their families took place to discuss the troubled business.
October 2013: If Abbas Jafarnia gets his way, Maritime Steel may soon operate in New Glasgow and not move to Niagara Falls.