Verso to idle Duluth mill indefinitely

Updated: June 09, 2020 06:57 PM

The Verso paper mill in Duluth is going to be idled indefinitely at the end of June. That's according to a statement from the company. Verso is also idling the plant in Wisconsin Rapids. Between the two, there will be layoffs of about 1000 people.

This is due to decline in demand because of COVID-19. The stay at home orders have significantly reduced the use of print advertising. Now that's leading to real job loss in the Northland.

Mike Birkeland, Executive VP of the Minnesota Timber Producers Association and the Minnesota Forest Industries said, "With a situation like this, the impact reaches real people. Employees affected at the mill. The logging community is affected as well, we have some great suppliers who provide wood to that mill."

Now Verso said it will explore viable and sustainable alternatives for both mills, including restarting if market conditions improve, marketing for sale, or closing permanently.

Rep. Liz Olson said she and other lawmakers had been working with Verso for several years, on making sure they stayed viable as the industry changed. Verso had a project that would have required some conversion at the plant to make more packaging materials, and Olson said they were able to secure $2 million dollars in grants for the project.

"We were able to make changes this session, just a few weeks ago, in the language to make sure the could still access the money," she said. "Verso has been really good at forward thinking." However, now project is on hold, as the plant is idled.

The pandemic was not something most could forecast as a business interruption.

Olson added they'll continue to partner with Verso and see if there are any state resources available, with the goal of keeping the plant running in the future.

"Decisions to idle facilities are always difficult because they impact employees, their families, and communities. Verso is committed to treating all of our affected employees with fairness and respect. As always, safety is our highest priority and will be our primary focus during this difficult time," said Adam St. John, President and CEO of Verso, in a statement.

According to the company website, the Duluth mill employs around 235 people. They have the capacity to make 270,000 tons of paper per year. That paper is used in magazines, catalogs, and retail inserts, per the website.

It encompasses about 90 acres. And it all started as a joint venture between Minnesota Power and Pentair, Inc. The mill has gone through different owners and names over the years.

"We'll hopefully continue to be a strong partner, and see if there are any state resources that can help, with keeping these folks employed and keep the mill running," Olson added.

Duluth state senator Erik Simonson sent a statement, which reads, “The indefinite idling of the Verso paper mill, due to the global economic slowdown from COVID-19, is yet another tough blow to our local economy and the families that depended on these jobs,” said Senator Simonson. “The loss of these jobs and the impacts to secondary and tertiary industries will require a strong public-private response to ensure benefits are provided to impacted employees and new ownership is secured for this facility. I’m committed to leveraging the full resources of the State of Minnesota to protect and grow our regional economy, and to ensure our government is working alongside industry and companies to invest and grow in Duluth.” 

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