Wickliffe mayor worries about town's future after paper mill lay - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

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Wickliffe mayor worries about town's future after paper mill layoffs

The Verso Corporation announced plans to idle production indefinitely at its paper mill in Wickliffe, Ky.

According to a news release from the company, the change will result in the layoff of about 310 employees beginning in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Practically everyone in town knows someone or is related to someone that is being impacted by the news.

The mayor Wickliffe, George Lane, said families, including his own, hope that this is not a permanent decision.

He said he's aggravated by how they learned the news.

"I worked there for 33 years, my son works there, the city clerk's husband works there, everybody I know work there," he said. "We had no fair warning to me. Fair is fair and I'm not supposed to say this, but, that's not fair. Give me a little warning."

The effects of the decision impact surrounding cities and states, but Mayor Lane said the town will feel the effects the most.

Mayor Lane said two businesses have already closed down in the town, and he fears if the plant doesn't reopen, more might follow.

Owners of the Wagon Wheel Restaurant say one-third of their business comes from employees and traffic brought in to town by the mill.

While they say their heart breaks for their customers, many of whom they know personally, they worry about their restaurant's future. They too hope the plant is able to reopen soon.

"We have to tighten up and we have some great help right now," Danny Brewer said.

"Oh, we've got a fabulous crew. And we'd like to keep it that way if we can, you know, and just keep everybody employed, you know, 'cause round here there aren't a whole lot of jobs in Wickliffe," Sandra Van Buren said.

This is also a huge loss for Ballard County, which collects payroll taxes from employees.

Currently, the Wickliffe Mill has one machine with the capacity to produce 280,000 tons of coated paper and 30,000 tons of dried market pulp.

The company reports it is making major reductions in its coated paper and pulp production because the demand is in decline.

According to the Pulp and Paper Products Council, sales for coated paper were down by 4.3 percent in 2013 and continue to fall. In the first half of 2015, sales fell 4.7 percent. 

The industry has also been impacted negatively by the strengthening U.S. dollar, which has caused an increase in foreign imports from Asia, Europe and Canada, while decreasing U.S. exports.

In addition to stalling production at the Wickliffe Mill, the company reports it will be shutting down the No. 1 pulp dryer and No. 2 paper machine at its Androscoggin Mill in Jay, Maine.

According to the Verso Corporation, these actions will reduce the company's capacity by 430,000 tons of coated paper and 130,000 tons of dried market pulp.

The closures at the Androscoggin Mill will mean about 300 people will lose their jobs.

The mill's vice president of operations, Adam St. John, said their focus is on the employees, because the future of the facility is unknown. He said the mill could be permanently shut down at some point, but the company is hoping the mill can start back up again if conditions change.

The idle phase fore the mill will begin in a few months, during the fourth quarter of 2015.

In a news release, Verso President and CEO David J. Paterson stated:

"Decisions to reduce production capacity are never easy. They are especially difficult for the employees and their families who are directly affected by these actions. Verso is committed to treating all of our impacted employees with fairness, dignity and respect and to communicating openly and honestly with each individual about how this decision will affect him or her. Our Human Resources team will begin meeting with our affected employees immediately."

According to the Verso website, the Wickliffe mill has been open since the late 1960s. Verson bought the company from NewPage Corporation in 2014. It has 2,330 acres, including a woodyard, pulp mill, paper machine, off-machine blade coater, two supercalenders, two winders, finishing machines and a pulp dryer.

The website states the mill has the capacity to produce approximately 285,000 tons of paper per year. It produces coated freesheet, specialty and uncoated paper used for magazine covers, catalogs, annual reports, high profile advertising inserts, product brochures, product packaging (laminating) and direct mail.

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