RG Steel ended up in bankruptcy because it didn't run the mill properly, Locker said.

"They didn't go into this with a sufficient understanding and resources to meet the challenge, and they failed," he said.

RG Steel, for its part, blames its predecessor. It alleged in a court filing in its bankruptcy case that Severstal failed to provide $82.5 million of the working capital it had promised. A New York federal judge ordered that dispute into arbitration in May.

Locker said he hears that more than one potential buyer is "actively looking" at Sparrows Point with an eye to bidding on it. But any buyer will have to woo the mill's customers back, he said.

"They haven't had any stability and reliability and predictability in terms of product," he said. "No. 1 concern for a manufacturer is delivery."

Edward Fangman, chief of the division of workforce development in the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development, suspects workers will wait to see whether a buyer comes through before jumping into the job search. But he hopes they don't wait.

"It puts you so far behind the curve," he said. "And we need, obviously, to get these folks as much help as we can, as soon as we can."

jhopkins@baltsun.com

twitter.com/RealEstateWonk

Baltimore Sun reporter Eileen Ambrose contributed to this article.

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