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US Steel CEO: We're reopening an idled plant and bringing back 500 jobs due to Trump tariffs

  • We're excited "to tell our employees in the community in Granite City, Illinois, that we will be calling back 500 employees," says CEO David Burritt.
  • Burritt says the facility had been idle since December 2015 because of what he called unfair trade practices.

U.S. Steel CEO David Burritt told CNBC on Wednesday his company will reopen a steel plant in the United States due to President Donald Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs.

"We're really excited to be able to tell our employees in the community in Granite City, Illinois, that we will be calling back 500 employees," Burritt said during an interview with "Squawk Box."

The company will restart two blast furnaces and the steelmaking facilities at its Granite City Works integrated plant in Illinois. The restart process could take up to four months.

Burritt said the facility had been idle since December 2015 because of what he called unfair trade practices. "If you don't have customers here to sell to and you can't make money, you have to shut them down," he contended.

Some on Wall Street and in Washington remain skeptical on whether Trump's tariffs would indeed bring back steel jobs in force. They've been in a steady decline for years.

Burritt thanked Trump for "courageous leadership" on tariffs.

Last Thursday, the president proposed a plan for import tariffs of 25 percent steel and 10 percent on aluminum, a move seen as a contributing factor to top White House economic advisor Gary Cohn's decision to resign. Cohn, a former No. 2 executive at Goldman Sachs, was against imposing tariffs.

On Wednesday, appearing with Burritt on CNBC, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the White House is not trying to "blow up the world" with its tariffs, and indicated that Trump would be open to exempting U.S. trading partners Canada and Mexico if a reworked NAFTA can be reached.

"This feels like the beginning of a renaissance for us," said Burritt, a former chief financial officer at heavy equipment maker Caterpillar. "It's really important that we get this right, and now it's finally happening."

Burritt said the strength of the U.S. depended on the tariffs. "You've got to be able to make stuff in the United States. If you take away our ability to make things, you don't really have a society."

"Just think about the way the U.K. used to have a big manufacturing base. It went away. If you don't make stuff, you can't have a strong country. You can't protect yourself and you go by the way of Greece or maybe Puerto Rico," he added.

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