A fantastic opportunity for Rumford area

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I read with great interest the report in the Sun Journal that Nine Dragons Paper Company was purchasing the Rumford Paper Mill (Saturday, May 26). What a fantastic situation this sale proffers for local people and their community. At long last, the area has a potential future. At long last, the area has an anchor company that can become the tool for economic development that the area needs.

Nine Dragons is a very successful paper company. The owners understand the marketplace and are in the business for the long haul. They do not purchase mills with the intent to make a fast buck. Investment firms have a place in this world, but owning businesses with a long and steady goal in mind is not one of them.

It is so great to see that Rumford’s mill is going to be off that merry-go-round. The mill acquisition is the single biggest opportunity that has been placed before the collective communities in a quarter century. Residents must take advantage of it.

It is time for the union, and the communities, to take a long view. People in the area have learned from the past 25 years or so of steady infrastructure decay that there is more to success than an hourly wage increase or a quick profit.

This new company has deep pockets and it is willing to invest in the mill. They will undoubtedly invest in new paper-making equipment and new people skills. However, investment in the mill must include, directly or indirectly, an acknowledgement of the impact on community structures — housing, families, and schools. Rumford’s population is down to 5,500 people. The same holds true for all the outlying communities, such as Mexico, Dixfield, Peru, Canton, Roxbury, etc. Rumford’s former shoppers’ island is but a ghost. Empty buildings and empty houses are everywhere.

The things local people must ask in partnering with this new paper company are the types of things Hugh Chisholm originally offered. He knew that local prosperity meant prosperity for his company. This paper company must understand and value the local communities in order to achieve long term success.

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History tells us that this new company understands the importance of community. This understanding is part of their culture and it is an ingrained part of their publicly visible business plan. They show a desire and a respect for happy well-paid employees, and they know that these employees are the key to long term company success.

Long-term success can only happen if the towns and families surrounding the mill are brought back to prosperity. The union and the townspeople must ask this new mill owner, and the towns, to find a way to offer perks and first preference for employment to those people who currently live in, or immediately move to, one of our Western Maine communities. Bethel is a wonderful town. So is Auburn and Turner. However, that being said, hiring folks to commute from these or other areas is not in Rumford’s collective interest.

There is ample housing, ample land and ample educational structures in place to handle new families that can acquire new jobs in the new mill. Let them bring their skills and families here. Local businesses need them to do their shopping, their growing, their recreating, and their educating in the immediate area towns.

These towns know how to succeed. Local people know how to rebuild the retail infrastructure. All that is needed are families living and prospering in the greater Rumford area. At last, local residents’ interests and a new mill owner’s interest, exactly coincide.

I must emphasize again, the area cannot become healthy and prosperous again until the local communities are able to offer opportunity. They cannot offer opportunity until there is a population living here able to afford it. It is imperative that this fact be impressed upon the Nine Dragon management team. They must understand that the long-term success of the Nine Dragons mill depends 100 percent on the success of the communities and the families that make up their employee base.

Let’s all get together and make this happen.

Rep. Richard “Dick” Pickett of East Dixfield, is the state Representative for House District 116 (Canton, Dixfield, Hartford, Mexico and Peru).

Richard Pickett

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