By Deborah Austin Pursuing competitive success despite a depressed steel market, Minnesota Iron & Steel Co. -- a Nashwauk, Minn., company whose equity partners include Ford Motor Co., Kobe Steel Ltd., Itochu International Inc., Danieli Group, and ABB Ltd. -- recently began the permitting process for a $1.2 billion project designed to provide cost- and time-reduction efficiencies in the production of steel. The project includes a taconite (iron ore) mine, a nearby direct reduced iron plant to convert taconite into reduced-iron pellets, an electric arc furnace melt shop, and equipment to process pellets into hot-band steel. Because it eliminates the long-distance shipping delays and coke-fired blast furnaces of traditional steel processing, the proposed arrangement is more environmentally-friendly and cost-effective, claims Ron Dicklich, director of government and public affairs for Minnesota Iron & Steel. "We could mine in the morning and have a steel slab by midnight" versus the typical two-to-three-week industry time frame, he says. State-mandated environmental review and permitting should take about 24 to 30 months. Construction will take approximately two additional years.