There is hope for a revival at Keokuk Steel Castings, the Iowa foundry that closed officially in March after almost 80 years of operation. The plant’s former owners, Matrix Metals LLC, announced the closing late last years, citing the decline in demand for castings required by oil-and-gas exploration and drilling operations.

Now, according to various reports, The Mills Group of Earlville, IA, agreed to buy the idle operation from Matrix Metals for $3.1 million. That price has not been confirmed.

The Mills Group owns and operates four companies in Iowa, all fabricators of equipment used in agricultural processes and livestock handling equipment. "As long-time local residents, we're excited to start a second campus a little closer to home," according to owners Brad and Annie Mills.

Plans for restarting the foundry are unclear. "Our first objective is to get the (plant) back up and running and reach out to the KSC customers," according to Brad Mills, in a release."

Mills credited “the skills, talent and dedication of the employees and management at KSC," and pledged to work with them “to uncover the many opportunities ahead of us."

He continued: “A little further down the road, we have additional plans for Keokuk … We see the possibility of utilizing Keokuk as an expansion option for our other companies. We also see growing this location through additional acquisitions as we have done in Earlville."

One report indicated the buyers hope to have the foundry operating at full capacity with 200 employees by 2018. Keokuk Steel Castings had 192 workers when its shutdown was announced in December.

As recently as 2012, the plant had as many as 500 employees, as it supplied a then-booming oil-and-gas sector. Now, the problems that led to Matrix Metals closing Keokuk Steel Casting are somewhat widespread in the steel-foundry sector: ESCO Corp. announced plans to close its Portland, OR, steel foundry, which supplies ground-engaging parts for mining and construction; and Columbus Steel Castings, in Ohio, which supplies castings for railroad carriages and related systems, is idle and in creditor protection, seeking a buyer.