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State tries to counter plant shutdown

In Lackawanna, N.Y., a bustling crossroads of ship and rail traffic nestled along Lake Erie, an 82-year-old steel mill is about to close down.

An estimated 7,300 steelworkers from this plant will be permanently laid off by the end of 1983 - joining the already swelling ranks of unemployed steelworkers across the nation.

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In the latest series of layoffs to hit the already hard-pressed steel industry in New York and Pennsylvania, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation plans to eliminate nearly 10,000 jobs in the two states by the end of next year.

While state and local officials are stepping up efforts to reverse the decision, company officials hold out little hope that anything can now be done.

The Bethlehem Steel Corporation, headquartered in Bethlehem, Pa., claims that closing the plant in Lackawanna will vastly improve the company's beleaguered financial position.

By the end of the first three quarters of 1982, the company had lost $325 million. Company officials say the move to close the Lackawanna plant and lay off an additional 2,300 to 2,700 workers in Johnstown, Pa., is part of an attempt to close old facilities and consolidate operations in response to increased foreign competition.

Lackawanna plant spokesman Jerald Bogacz says Bethlehem will continue to maintain a foothold in the city. A residue work force of 1,000-1,300 people will continue to operate what ''will be basically a steel 'finishing' facility, after the end of 1983,'' he says.

Meanwhile, the states involved are taking these steps to rescind the shutdown decision:

* New York Gov.-Elect Mario M. Cuomo has set up an emergency task force. It will meet in Buffalo, near the Lackawanna plant, and explore ways to counter the decision. High on the agenda: how to reverse an earlier decision by the state's Metropolitan Transportation Authority to purchase new New York City subway equipment from foreign companies.

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But some observers say it would be difficult to ensure that the Lackawanna plant would get any of resulting business.

* On the local level, Mayor Ed Luwik of Lackawanna is meeting with company and labor officials. A spokesman for the mayor said the city would do what it can to help laid- off workers get new jobs or temporary assistance. Unemployment in the Buffalo area is already above the national average.

US Rep. Jack Kemp (D) of New York says the plant closings may spur proposed urban enterprise zone legislation to provide tax incentives for businesses to locate in depressed urban areas.

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