The story of how mills have been kept alive. But for how long?
By Ramona du Houx
Baileyville has been all over the news lately. It is a small town in Washington County that is in transition because one of its major employers, Domtar, announced they had to let 150 workers go. The inevitable happened. The mill had been producing a paper stock that currently over-saturates the market. Their paper machine was a relic of the past and has been shut down. The future of Domtar is in their pulp-manufacturing base, where they are keeping over 300 workers employed.
“We need to work collaboratively and use every available resource to help the displaced workers and the community recover. In Maine, we have a history of working together to solve big problems. That’s what needs to happen here,” said Governor Baldacci.
The governor and Maine’s Congressional Delegation have formed a task force that will coordinate state and federal efforts to assist Domtar’s former employees and to protect the long-term health of the mill’s pulp production in Baileyville. Additionally, the task force will work with the private sector and regional economic development organizations.
“This joint task force affords an opportunity for Maine to mount a vigorous, united response that focuses all of our resources and energy on behalf of the workers and their communities,” said Rep.Allen.
After a visit to Baileyville, Rep. Mike Michaud commented, “These workers are dedicated, talented, and hard-working Mainers who have given their all. In the days and weeks ahead, my office will work to provide whatever assistance is necessary to help these workers to get back to work.”
The Maine Department of Labor (MDOL) has been working to help displaced workers with job placement and retraining. Together with Maine’s Congressional Delegation, MDOL has been working to receive Trade Adjustment Assistance.
“Maine has been aggressive in taking steps that have kept Domtar’s pulp operation competitive. Our forest certification program helps the company to better market its products worldwide,” said Gov. Baldacci. “The certification program gives the green seal of approval to Domtar. It guarantees that the wood being used to produce pulp is harvested in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way.”
That’s one plus for Domtar’s pulp business; another lies in revolutionary technology that has the ability to turn wood waste, pulp, and other materials into energy efficient ethanol that could replace gasoline. This technology, developed at the University of Maine, could turn the mill into a major ethanol producer. The process is being applied in Old Town’s Red Shield Environmental Park.
“The work being done at the university is the kind of innovation that will drive this state’s economy into the future. It will help modernize our old industries, help to fight global warming, and make our state and country more energy secure,” said the governor.
“When we started this process in Old Town with the university, we had Baileyville in mind. As a pulp operation, Baileyville has the capacity of twice as much as the Old Town mill. They could be a real commercial ethanol facility,” said Jack Cashman, the governor’s economic advisor.
With the aid and guidance of Cashman and his team, instead of being an economic disaster, the closing of the Old Town GP Mill resulted in good jobs and benefits for Old Town, as Red Shield Environmental set up shop. Helping traditional industries to compete in the global economy is an ongoing effort of the Baldacci administration. They have a good track record. The Lincoln mill now employs 400 people with a $21 million payroll; two mills in Millinocket have been brought back from the abyss and currently employee 700 people.
Meanwhile, Washington County has begun to see results from being designated as a Pine Tree Zone. The governor’s PTZ program, which gives companies tax incentives, was set up to target areas in the state that had low employment rates and incomes. Last June, Insulated Component Structures Inc. of Florida announced they would be breaking ground in August with a 57,000-square-foot facility up and running by the end of the year, employing over 60 people.
“We chose to locate our new plant in Maine in order to more efficiently and cost-effectively service our prospective clients in New England and Canada,” said Damar Dore, president of ICS, Maine.
ICS manufactures composite panels that are strong and energy efficient. The composite industry in Maine has been identified as a growing sector, assisted by research and development at the University of Maine (UM).
PTZs are providing a foundation for growth, enabling the state to help companies expand and transition into the high-tech global economy. UM is providing a world-class research and development facility that has made technological breakthroughs, giving companies here at home a global edge. Community colleges are offering opportunities to obtain higher education degrees to a wider sector of society than traditional four-year university’s offer, enabling graduates to fill more rapidly developing high-tech jobs.
Patterns are emerging. When Dover-Foxcroft announced that their manufacturing facility had to close, largely due to overseas competition, down the road in Cornith, a month later, a new manufacturer announced they would be opening North America’s largest wood pellet manufacturing plant. Many displaced workers from Dover-Foxcroft are now working at Cornith Wood Pellets, and new buyers have been found for the Dover-Foxcroft facility.
In Maine, when one door closes, others open up, because of economic development programs in place and the work of teams around the state helping the state transition into the global economy.