Pittsburgh's heart of steel still beats amid transformed city

In recent weeks, the steel business has shown welcome signs of life. The government's cash-for-clunkers program caused automakers' assembly lines to stir. And shell-shocked consumers began spending a bit more on the appliances dependent upon Edgar Thomson's output. But it's way too soon to celebrate. "We're improving off a very, very low base," Surma says.

Surma says his major customers tell him they're getting their inventories back in line with existing demand, but aren't able to forecast much beyond November. It seems clear that the frothy pre-crisis economy isn't coming back. But Surma's confident that whatever the new normal turns out to be, U.S. Steel will be positioned to capitalize.

"We've been fighting that battle since 1902. ... We're not prepared to surrender or retreat," Surma says.

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