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Noranda Aluminum smelter in New Madrid

A worker skims impurities off the top of a crucible of molten aluminum that will be poured into 1500 sows at the Noranda Aluminum smelter in New Madrid on Tuesday, February 16, 2016. The smelter, which was built in the late1960s, is scheduled to be shutdown in March of 2016 because imported aluminum is depressing the price of the product. Photo by David Carson,

JEFFERSON CITY • Although it may result in higher electric bills for many Missouri residents, Gov. Eric Greitens approved a law Thursday allowing large utility customers to negotiate lower rates in an attempt to lure two new companies to southeast Missouri.

The bill signing came as Greitens was heading to a meeting with President Trump in the nation’s capital, where he was planning to promote his efforts to bring jobs to the impoverished Bootheel region of the state.

“People want to work. So we’re working to bring back American jobs,” he said in a post on Facebook.

The message of job creation, however, came as Greitens cancelled what would have been his first overseas trade mission.

The governor was scheduled to lead a delegation to Europe next week, but scrapped the plan because lawmakers are in the midst of a second special session he called to address abortion-related laws.

Among the activities planned for the trip was a visit to the Paris Air Show on behalf of Missouri’s aerospace industry, which includes Boeing Co. and its St. Louis-made F/A-18 Super Hornets.

Greitens spokesman Parker Briden said a separate delegation from the Missouri Department of Economic Development would still have a presence at the air show.

The utility legislation was the product of the first special session called by Greitens. It is designed to allow a steel mill and an aluminum smelter to negotiate discounted rates for electricity.

In return, the governor says it will boost employment in the area after the Noranda aluminum smelter closed last year and idled more than 900 workers.

A Switzerland-based company that purchased the Noranda plant is hopeful that cheaper electricity can help them reopen the facility.

A steel company from India, meanwhile, has looked at a site in New Madrid for a plant that would employ about 200 people.

Opponents of the plan say allowing the change could drive up residential and small business electric rates. In a report, the Public Service Commission, found that rates could jump by $54 per year after 10 years if energy cost inflation would rise by 10 percent annually.

“So proud of the work that so many of you did all over the state of Missouri to make this happen,” Greitens said.

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Kurt Erickson is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch