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Wausau Plant Closing is Just Another Nail in the Paper Industry Coffin
For 100 years paper manufacturing has been the economic core of Coos County.
It has provided solid jobs for thousands of workers.
But take-no-prisoners global competition has reached out and clobbered Coos.
NHPR correspondent Chris Jensen has the story.
That massive, blurry noise is the sound of the Wausau paper-manufacturing plant in Groveton.
On January 1st the plant will be so quiet one will be able to hear even a mocking whisper of “Happy New Year.”
The plant is closing on December 31st, eliminating about 300 jobs.
This is nothing new for Coos.
In 2003, the county had more than a thousand people working in four paper manufacturing plants.
The annual wages were about $50 million, according to state records.
But it has become cheaper to get paper overseas.
That forced the pulp mill in Berlin and a small Groveton plant to close in 2006.
Now Wausau Paper in Groveton is taking the hit.
That means when 2008 arrives the last paper plant standing in Coos will be the Fraser paper operation in Gorham.
It has about 350 workers and an annual payroll of about $18 million, a company official said.
What a change. Four years. A loss of some 700 jobs and about 32 million dollars a year in wages.(does this include the loss of the Groveton plant??)
BOTTLE AND JUKEBOX SOUNDS.
Just down the street from the Gorham plant is Mary’s Pizza.
The Ferrante family opened it 60 years ago.
And since then they’ve seen the plant’s good times but now they mostly see bad times.
Jim Ferrante, Mary’s grandson, is the current owner:
12:869 “There used to be 2,000 employees at one time between the Berlin and Gorham operations. Now they are down to 350. It is sad because the younger population leaves town when they get out of school. There is no work for them here.”
Fraser Paper is headquartered in Toronto.
Company officials admit the Gorham plant faces the same challenges as any paper plant.
But at the moment, according to the company’s Chief Financial Officer, the Gorham plan is running at about break-even.
He said there is no immediate plan to close the mill but he couldn’t speculate on what could happen “a few months down the road.”
One Gorham worker, with 33 years at the plant, says – oddly enough - there may be an upside to the plant closing in Groveton.
18:364 -- “It is sad to see Groveton close. It is sad to see any paper industry go down whether in the area here or anywhere else in the United States. Unfortunately every time another plant goes down our chances are better. It opens up more of a market for us. But I really think we have a good chance down here.”
Groveton doesn’t see any upside.
The town’s 1,200 people have already been hit once by global competition.
In 2006 Groveton Paper Board closed with the loss of about 100 jobs.
But the company’s sign remains.
It says: “We’re here to stay.”
For a little longer Wausau paper is still operating.
It is the first thing one sees going north on Route 3.
The plant dominates the town physically and financially.
Its annual payroll is about $13.3 million.
That money is spread throughout Coos, and it’s going to be missed.
15:229 -- “This is a very small town that for years has been geared to just the paper industry. They are not prepared for it. That is the big problem.”
That’s Thomas LeDuc, the owner of the Groveton Market.
Just down the street is Emerson Hardware.
CASH REGISTER NOISE.
Ralph Emerson opened the store in 1932.
Brian Emerson says he doubts his grandfather would have ever imagined that one day the paper plant’s steamy white plumes would no longer rise above the town.
17:149 - “All things change and we have to go with the flow and try and make things work out without it. But nobody likes it and it is a real blow to the community. Hopefully the community will stand strong and find other ways to make a living.”
Groveton is in a beautiful area and there are hopes for more tourism.
There is also talk of a biomass plant.
State officials say they will work with the community to try and ease the impact.
Gov. John Lynch plans a visit this Friday.
( fade up sound inside the factory)
This factory has been producing paper since 1893.
The old, brick building is noisy.
Huge rolls of pink, gray and yellow paper stacked 20-feet high brighten some of the rooms.
David Atkinson is the third generation of his family to work at the Wausau plant.
Now, as the vice president of operations, he is also the man who will close it.
Atkinson says the workers have known about the challenges of the paper industry.
They knew about the possibility of a closing.
Still, they are shocked.
Atkinson says rather than give up years ago workers fought back and improved quality and reduced costs.
12:564 -- “The efforts of the employees here the last three or four years really kept us in business three or four years longer than we maybe should have been. But again, that is a pretty hollow victory.”
For NHPR News, this is Chris Jensen