KEEWATIN, Minn. (AP) — Idled workers soon will be returning to their jobs at the Keetac taconite plant on northern Minnesota's Iron Range.

U.S. Steel announced Thursday that the company has reached agreements to supply iron ore pellets to third-party customers. That will result in restarting Keetac.

WDIO-TV reports employee callbacks will begin in early January. U.S. Steel anticipates production will begin in March.

Keetac has been idled for about a year and a half due to a downturn in the international steel industry. The plant normally has an annual production capacity of about 6 million tons.

United Steelworkers Local 2660 President Cliff Tobey says the shutdown has been "extremely hard" on union members, and that the union hopes the restart "is a sign of better times to come."