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Verso Mill set to halt production as potential buyer brings hope

Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 6:50 PM CDT
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WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. (WSAW) - We're learning more about the potential future of the Verso Paper Mill in Wisconsin Rapids and the effort to save hundreds of jobs.

The mill announced in early June it would halt production July 31st. The Wisconsin Rapids Together task force was created to support families affected and find a potential buyer. Representative Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa) and Sen. Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) lead the task force.

But with no action by potential buyers so far, an estimated 900 people will be out of work when the mill shuts down Friday.

But there is still hope those jobs won't disappear for long.

Henry Schienebeck, executive director of Great Lakes Timber Professionals, tells Newschannel 7 his Rhinelander-based group is working on forming a co-op with the City of Wisconsin Rapids and union workers that would keep everyone in their current jobs.

Schienebeck says the closure is a less obvious but significant loss to forestry jobs in the state. Which is why Wisconsin Rapids Mayor Shane Blaser also believes it's important to take action and find a buyer.

"We're also concerned with the indirect, the thousands of employees in the logging and trucking industry that are going to be added to that direct impact of closing the mill," Blaser said.

Schienebeck says saving the mill is important to the logging industry and the health of Wisconsin’s forests.

“We all have this agreement that we’re looking for that long-term stability,” he said by phone.

The mill accounts for 15% of Wisconsin’s wood production and its closure would mean a $700 million per year loss for Wood County’s economy.

Mayor Blaser says the mill is part of the fabric of Wisconsin Rapids.

"It's very concerning. This mill, I grew up here, this mill has always been a part of the community. As we say, it's withstood the Depression, it's withstood multiple world wars, and it's concerning to see that there's no condensation coming out of the smoke stacks, as people have been saying," he said.

There is currently no timeline for when the co-op could take over the mill or how much it will cost. But Schienebeck says the group is moving quickly, and says people losing their jobs can know someone is working hard to give them hope for the future.

The Rapids Together task force has a list of resources for families affected at rapidstogether.com. There you can find information to help with paying bills and resources for unemployment.

Copyright 2020 WSAW. All rights reserved.

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