Wisconsin Rapids together task force meets with goal of saving Verso mill jobs

Published: Jun. 24, 2020 at 6:33 PM CDT
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A task force is looking for ways to save Verso Paper Mill in Wisconsin Rapids. The mill announced it would halt operations at the end of July, but a group of lawmakers and local organizations is hoping that doesn't have to happen.

Wednesday, the Wisconsin Rapids Together task force held its first meeting, a hybrid of in-person and virtual participation from stakeholders.

Leaders expressed concern that a halt in Verso's production would affect countless families. The fallout would likely ripple across the state's paper industry and affect forestry and natural resources.

"It's a state of Wisconsin mill, because it provides so many jobs to forestry and timber products, paper product companies, loggers, truckers," said State Representative Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa), a chair of the task force.

That's why the task force is trying to save those 900 jobs at the mill.

"The direct impact would be 500 million dollars. The indirect impact would be 200 million dollars, and that doesn't even account for the ripple effect that it'll have not just for central Wisconsin but our paper industry as a whole," State Senator Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) said by phone. “Hopefully come together and put together some options, that we hope we can present to not just the company, but as well as work with the Evers administration and WEDC Secretary... to come up with some solutions.”

Rep. Krug notes it’s not the first company to announce departure plans over the years, comparing it to a situation with Kimberly-Clark.

“Other companies who have said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get out of here, we’re not doing it,’ the state has stepped up. And that always comes from the executive branch,” Krug said.

Representative Krug and Senator Testin say Governor Evers’ administration isn't against giving verso incentives to stay open. Another option is to find a buyer.

"Whether that's working with the existing company, which is verso, or trying to find a prospective buyer to come in and eventually have that mill be turnkey for that new buyer," said Testin.

While one sub-committee is working on business and economic development, another sub-committee is made up of schools, non-profits and the DWD, to help the people impacted, should the mill need to close.

"A well trained and very skilled workforce leaving the area is not healthy, and I think it's important that we try to retain that population of workers," said Wisconsin Rapids Mayor Shane Blaser.

Lawmakers and community members agree helping Verso's workers is important.

"Not one issue relating to politics came up. This is the first time that I can remember, in my 10 years in the legislature, that we really didn't have any political discussion," said Krug.

Time is of the essence as it is set to close July 31st. Representative Krug says people on the two sub committees are meeting weekly as that date approaches.