When British billionaire Sanjeev Gupta first visited Whyalla to inspect the local steelworks he was disappointed, but not surprised that the plant had been under-invested in.
“Steel has not been a sexy industry globally for a long time,” he said.
“There haven’t been hoards of companies rushing to invest in steel.”
But when Mr Gupta was given his first tour of the steelworks, he was wowed by its potential.
“I looked at it and I said, wow, this could be the biggest plant in the world,” he said.
“We have our own enormous mining resources, we have a port that could be one of the biggest ports in the country and we have the resources to make some of the cheapest energy in the world.”
Mr Gupta now continues to work towards that vision, recently marking one year since GFG Alliance officially took over the Whyalla Steelworks.
He sat down with Whyalla News Senior Journalist Louis Mayfield after the festivities had finished to talk about the future of both the business and the steel city.
Question 1: “Have you had a chance to talk to the people of Whyalla, the business owners and workers, to gauge how they’re feeling?”
Gupta: “I’ve had a degree of engagement. I always feel like I come and go and I don’t have enough time to talk to people and meet people properly.”
Question 2: “Things aren’t going to get done overnight at the Whyalla Steelworks, but do you feel like once the community see where you get in the end they’ll know that wait was worth it?”
Gupta: “The enthusiasm from everybody in Whyalla is unquestionable. The workers and unions were positive in the face of great adversity, and now that there is a clear light at the end of the tunnel everyone’s looking forward to the future.”
Question 3: “So far you’ve increased the Whyalla Steelworks’ production by 50,000 tonnes – how high do you think you can go in the future?”
Gupta: “The existing plant has a maximum capacity of 1.2 million tonnes, we’re already not far from that. This footprint can be expanded to 2 million tonnes. Beyond that, a new steel plant could have production as big as you could dream because the infrastructure is there.”
Question 4: “You previously said that you believe Whyalla has the capacity to have a population of up to 80,000 people. Do you still stand by that now?”
Gupta: “If you talk about the kind of steel plants we could have here, the mining expansions that could happen, other projects that companies like Becker Helicopters are bringing here, renewable energy and tourism, if you take all these things and put them together there’s no doubt one day Whyalla will be bursting at its seams.”
Question 5: “Outside of your sphere of influence, what else do you think Whyalla needs to continue moving forward?”
Gupta: “We need to encourage businesses to come here for sure. Cities are not developed by one company, cities need all different sorts of companies to be developed. There are so many different industries which are possible here, there’s lots of different mining opportunities here including mineral processing with graphite. Whatever we can do to help bring other investors to Whyalla we will do.”
Question 6: “On that, there is a lot of Chinese interest in Whyalla. Are you excited by the potential there?”
Gupta: “We need investors, be they Chinese, Indian, British, Australian, wherever they are from in the world. If there are opportunities here, we should present it as best we can and look for investment into the city.”
Question 7: “There have been some rumors about you investing in the Whyalla Foreshore in the form of a seven-story hotel – is that something you’re looking at?”
Gupta: “Accommodation is not our core business. What I want to see is Whyalla put on the map in Australia and in the world. If that means we need to sponsor something, invest in something, we will do so as we did with the jetty.”