Thursday, November 20, 2014

Falls mill rocked by big job cut

International Falls was dealt a harsh blow yesterday with news the Boise Inc. paper mill there will be shutting down two paper machines and an off-machine coater this fall, resulting in about 265 job cuts.
“It’s certainly devastating for the community,” Falls Mayor Bob Anderson said.

“At the same time, it’s not total despair,” he added.
“We still have 500-plus jobs at the mill, and the community’s efforts need to focus on how to keep those 500 positions and the mill viable into the future,” he stressed.
The company initially reported the shutdowns would result in the loss of about 300 jobs.
But Mayor Anderson clarified it is estimated the company will cut about 265 jobs at the Falls mill, with another 35 coming in sales and other positions at the corporate level.
“The first thing we need to do as a community is be prepared to support the many families that will be losing their employment as a result of this,” the mayor said.
“The loss of an industry job in the community will bring the loss of several other jobs, several other positions in the community, as well,” he warned.
Mayor Anderson admitted the news was a shock to him.
“We certainly didn’t expect this,” he remarked. “The mill, at least when I last was there about 18 months ago, was doing well.
“But the national economy, the global marketplace, continues to be a big challenge for the paper industry,” he conceded.
“Our whole area here [in the north] has been under siege, I guess you might say, because of the industry, but we’ve been fortunate [up until now],” Mayor Anderson added.
“It’s devastating to us. I don’t think we can deny that,” echoed Faye Whitbeck, president of the International Falls Chamber of Commerce.
“Of course, where everybody’s minds are is we’re trying to imagine the exponential effects of the news,” she remarked.
“On the other hand, this community has experienced this before,” added Whitbeck. “Every circumstance is different, but it accentuates the need for leadership and for a focus on what our possibilities are for economic development.
“We will rally and work together, as we always have.”
That said, Whitbeck admitted the job losses are “going to change everything” and there will be “a snowball effect” on the community.
“It’s going to take all of our efforts and our outlooks to make the best of the situation, and keep hope alive that we’re going to have other things that are going to develop and keep our community intact,” she stressed.
Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce president Mark Caron said he was “very disappointed” when he heard the news yesterday, but he’s confident the Falls will persevere.
“We’re suffering the same situation, but we’re managing to pull through it and so will the Falls,” he said.
“You’ve just got to stay together and always keep a
positive note on everything.
“The community is strong,” Caron added. “It’s just unfortunate they’re in the same situation we are, with the one major employer.
“I think Fort overall is still coping with [its own situation] quite well, and I think the Falls can follow suit in the same way,” he reiterated.
“At the end of the day, it’s not all gloom,” Caron stressed. “We can get through this, we’re proving it, and other communities in Northwestern Ontario have proven it.
“It is a sign of the times that paper is becoming a tough market, but there are other ways to survive and get through it,” he reasoned.
Coun. Ken Perry, who currently serves as deputy mayor of Fort Frances, also said he was “taken aback” when he heard about Boise’s announcement.
“I was surprised, to say the least,” he revealed yesterday. “But they do make newsprint over there, and are we surprised they’re not going to make newsprint for a while? No, because they’re not making newsprint in many places anymore, right?
“The market in North America for newsprint is dying, and if your paper mill makes paper for newsprint, you’re going to be cutting her back.
“They’re shocked over there. They thought it was going to go on forever just like we did, right?” Coun. Perry added.
“The bottom line is people don’t need paper anymore.
“Hopefully, we can do something with our kraft here and maybe get together with them over there and continue a relationship that we started many years ago, and maybe it will bounce back a little bit here,” said Coun. Perry.
Unfortunately, there’s been no indication of developments regarding the repositioning of the Resolute mill here, he noted.
Resolute president and CEO Richard Garneau spoke at the NOMA conference in Thunder Bay last week but didn’t mention Fort Frances at all.
“To improve the cost competitiveness of our paper business, where we operate against the background of secularly-declining demand for our products, we have made the difficult decision to close two paper machines and an off-machine coater at our International Falls mill,” Boise Inc. president and CEO Alexander Toeldte said in a press release yesterday.
Toeldte said the machine closures are expected to occur no later than the fourth quarter of 2013, which begins in October.
This will reduce the company’s annual uncoated freesheet capacity by roughly 115,000 tons, or nine percent, and “allow us to focus our efforts on key products and machines that drive our profitability, improve our cash flow, and enhance the overall competitiveness of our International Falls mill and our paper business,” noted Toeldte.
“We understand the impact this decision has on our dedicated employees, as well as the community of International Falls,” he added.
“We appreciate their efforts and support over the years.”

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