The Russian-owned Claymont Evraz Steel S.A. complex, next to I-95 just south of the Delaware line, has boosted production and added jobs this year, as global steel demand and prices have recovered.

"We've been on an aggressive hiring plan," adding more than 100 workers since last fall, bringing the total above 400 for the first time since Evraz Steel bought the plant in 2008, Claymont spokesman Antoine Oakley said.

"We took a pretty big hit in 2009 when the economy tanked, [but] it's back up," Oakley added. "We're optimistic. We're headed toward full crewing on both sides of the plant, our steelmaking division and our plate mill."

Full crews would total 500 employees and contractors on day and night shifts.

Arcelor Mittal, which owns the former Lukens Steel in Coatesville, among many other steelworks around the world, last week reported a 27 percent increase in sales during the first three months of the year, to $22 billion, and 32 percent higher operating profits of $2.1 billion, compared with the first quarter of 2010.

"With demand improving, U.S. steelmakers are restarting operations," and shipments from U.S. steel service centers are up more than 20 percent from last spring's levels, Andrew Brady, analyst at bond-watcher CreditSights Inc. in New York, told clients in a report.

But recent prices of $950 per metric tonne "will likely mark the peak for the year," Brady concluded. "Demand remains robust" from carmakers, builders and appliance makers, especially in developing countries," he said. But with more hot steel flowing again at more plants, Brady expects "a modest pullback in steel prices."

More advice

PFM Group, the Philadelphia-based firm that's already the biggest player in the U.S. municipal-bond advisory business, says it has bought Chicago-based rival Scott Balice Strategies L.L.C., for an undisclosed price.

PFM's Public Financial Management Inc. unit helps states, towns, and counties close 40 deals in a typical month, according to Bond Buyer, a trade publication. The firm employs 440, including 100 in Philadelphia, the rest in more than 30 offices spread from Virginia to California.

Scott Balice ranks 10th on the Bond Buyer list, and first in Illinois, which rivals Pennsylvania in its proliferation of local governments that sell bonds to raise money for projects and operations.

The deal gives PFM the services of namesake Balice partner Dean Balice and several associates. Balice clients include New Jersey Transit, which is using Balice to develop plans for selling or developing parking lots and garages for bus and train commuters around the state.

Like former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, PFM CEO F. John White is a promoter of "public-private partnerships" in which cities and states weigh plans to rent or sell highways, ports, schools, and other public assets. He's expanding PFM to handle the expected rise in demand for privatization by cash-strapped state and local governments.

I asked if it costs more to finance public projects when private, for-profit companies are part of the deal. Advisers can help governments raise money by selling or renting old public works, and use that cash to fund new public projects, without boosting the direct cost to taxpayers, White says. The burden may get passed to toll-paying drivers and other users instead.

Not everyone at Scott Balice is making the jump to PFM. Cofounder Lois Scott is joining newly elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the city's chief financial officer.

And Scott professionals Phoebe Selden, Chicago-based head of that firm's transportation group, and Debbie Schnebel, in Alaska, have joined Marlton-based Acacia Financial Group L.L.C.

Private sales of public assets aren't always best for towns and states, Acacia founder Kim Whelan told me. A former PFM official, she started Acacia in 2005. The firm now boasts clients in nine states.

Whelan recalls the ill-fated toll-road sales proposals of  ex-New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine. "It caused a mass revolt," she said. For the Atlantic City Expressway, an Acacia client, private ownership could have meant much higher tolls for the public, she said.

Contact columnist Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194 or JoeD@phillynews.com.