PaperAge Magazine

Making the Impossible Possible at Former Neenah Paper Mill in Vermont

Long Falls Paperboard The Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation directly supported the purchase of the Neenah paper mill by a group of four investors and connected the group with services available at the local, state and federal level. Photo courtesy Brattleboro Reformer.

Former Neenah paper mill in Brattleboro, Vermont now known as Long Falls Paperboard.

By Bob Audette, Brattleboro Reformer

Jan. 9, 2019 - A little more than two months ago, a meeting of the minds was called to figure out a way to keep a paper mill in operation.

On Oct. 25, Neenah, the Georgia-based company that bought the formerly named Fibermark in 2015, announced it was shuttering the plant, which would result in the loss of more than 100 good-paying jobs in the Brattleboro area.

“When we got the notice that they were going to close the plant, we rang up Neenah and said we need to chat,” said Adam Grinold, the executive director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation. “Our intention for reaching out was we wanted to help them maintain the plant, that we didn't want to see it close. These jobs are too important.”

The BDCC is a private, non-profit economic development organization, one of 12 regional development corporations around Vermont that functions as “one-stop-shops” for businesses and entrepreneurs seeking access to business support services. The RDCs either provide these services directly, or serve as the conduit to connect businesses to the needed services.

In the case of the BDCC, it directly supported the purchase of the Neenah paper mill by a group of four investors and connected the group with services available at the local, state and federal level.

“Neenah said 'No,'” said Grinold. “They said the closure is real and that we could give them all the assistance we had available but they are closing the plant. They said 'The only thing you can do is find a buyer who can close by Dec. 31."

An impossible task?

It seemed like an impossible task, but word had been percolating in the industry and within the United Steel Workers, which represents paper mill employees around the country, that Ben Rankin and his partners, Phil Farmer, Mike Cammenga and Richard Normandin — going by the name Long Falls Paperboard — were in the market for a paper plant.

Most recently, they had been eyeing the Carthage Specialty Paperboard in West Carthage, N.Y. When that deal fell through, Rankin and Farmer began to cast about, particularly in the Northeast, for other opportunities.

That's when they heard about Neenah's plan to close its plant in Brattleboro.

“We had worked hard with the union on the Carthage mill,” said Rankin. “We had built some trust and good relations and they didn't hesitate to send us this way. I believe the union also rattled the cage a bit so that Neenah knew we were really serious and capable.”

Rankin and Farmer quickly arranged a trip to Brattleboro and reached out to Grinold and his staff at the BDCC. On Oct. 30, the BDCC facilitated a meeting between state agencies and Rankin and Farmer, a meeting of the minds that was meant to bypass the normal bureaucratic red tape that stood in the way of a purchase agreement being reached before Dec. 31.

“We sat in this room 62 days ago,” Rankin said on Wednesday in the conference room at the now re-named Long Falls Paperboard paper mill. “And now, here we are, the owners of this plant.”

“Everyone rallied to the cause,” said Grinold, with representatives from a number of state agencies meeting with the BDCC and Long Falls to figure out a path forward.

The full story is available at the Brattleboro Reformer.

SOURCE: Brattleboro Reformer