Shuttered N.H. paper mill revived

Friday June 15, 2012

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- A paper mill that fell silent in New Hampshire’s North Country a couple years ago is humming once again, experiencing a rebirth reflected in a renovation, the rehiring of formerly jobless employees, and a search for new workers.

Nearly a year after re-opening, Gorham Paper and Tissue has many of its workers back again -- and is even advertising for some production jobs as a group of workers prepares for training on a new machine. The deadline for applications is June 20. Some people who were eligible to return to the mill have found other jobs or opted to retire.

"Hopefully, long term, we’ll have roughly 250 people at the mill," the highest number yet, said Willis Blevins, plant manager.

Gorham, the North Country’s last paper mill, appeared headed for extinction after its former owner declared bankruptcy in 2009. It shut down in the fall of 2010 after a buyer couldn’t be found, putting about 240 people out of work.

After being shut down for eight months, the mill was acquired by Patriarch Partners, a New York investment firm led by Lynn Tilton that specializes in acquiring distressed manufacturing companies and getting them back on their feet. The firm’s managing director for media said Tilton wasn’t immediately available to comment Thursday.

The mill is restructuring, with plans to have a new tissue machine running in September. In addition to the products it’s traditionally produced, such as paper towels and "commodity grades" -- large rolls intended to be cut into sheets -- there’s a focus on more specialized papers, such as grease-resistant bags and wrappers for chicken, french fries and sandwiches.

"We had to reorganize and come up with new grades that would be profitable for the type of business we’re in," Blevins said. He added that the mill now has a product development team to analyze the market.

Blevins said the mill is slowly getting back customers it had lost during a number of stops and starts in recent years.

"We’re ecstatic," said Roland "Rollie" Leclerc, 59, who was initially hired by the mill 34 years ago and was rehired in September. He supervises one of the machines. "I’m happy to be back at work. It’s great to have a paycheck every week. When you’re 50 years old and you lose your job, and you know you only have ‘X’ amount of weeks of unemployment coming to you, you do a lot of thinking," he said.

Leclerc added that business is on the rebound, and that the employees working as hard as they can to see that Tilton gets a return on her investment.

"They tell us that we’re running in the black, and that’s a good thing," he said.


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