Verso’s Paper Mill in Duluth, Minnesota announces indefinite shutdown

Verso Corp. is indefinitely closing its Duluth paper mill putting 235 employees out of work and placing the future of the mill in question.

The Ohio-based company will also close its Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., plant and “exploring viable and sustainable alternatives for both mills, including restarting if market conditions improve, marketing for sale or closing permanently,” the company said in a news release on Tuesday morning.

The Duluth Mill overlooks the city’s busy international seaport on St. Louis Bay, just south of the western-most end of Lake Superior, opposite Superior, Wisconsin. Duluth has been ranked as one of the top places to live based on its quality of life, scenic locale and numerous attractions.

The Duluth mill will be closed by the end of June and the Wisconsin plant by the end of July, with 1,000 employees in total losing their jobs.

The Duluth Mill began operating as Lake Superior Paper Industries in 1987 and was a joint venture between Minnesota Power and Pentair, Inc. The M.L. Hibbard Steam Station, unused since the 1970s, was re-commissioned to provide the steam needed to make paper. In 1993, the Duluth recycled pulp mill, 1987 built by Minnesota Power, was added to the paper mill.

The Duluth Mill has the capacity to produce approximately 270,000 tonnes of paper each year The mill makes graphic papers used for magazines, catalogues and retail inserts and packaging recycled kraft paper used for a variety of bag, sack and converting applications.

“Verso’s decision to reduce its production capacity was driven by the accelerated decline in printing and writing paper demand resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the company said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. “The stay-at-home orders have significantly reduced the use of print advertising in various industries, including retail, sports, entertainment and tourism.”

Loggers, truckers, plus county, state, and federal land management officials are among the other industry workers that came together to start the conversation on what some are calling an “immediate emergency situation” within the local industry.

Verso’s paper mill is a primary consumer of spruce and balsam trees. Typically a logger has to harvest all the species within a permit area and cannot pick and choose specific species. Now, with Verso’s shutdown, it’s leaving loggers with thousands of cords of wood without a place to sell it.

Loggers currently have permits with money sunk into payments for trees that are no longer marketable

The state’s overall natural resource economy has taken a nosedive amid the downturn, with a number of taconite mines idling and other paper mills slowing production.

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