JAY — Government officials, business owners and residents reacted with surprise, concern and resolve to Thursday’s announcement that the local paper mill is curbing production and laying off about 300 workers.

The number represents about a third of the workforce, which was 860 in October 2014.

Mill Manager Everett O’Neill called Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere on Thursday morning to tell her the plan, she said. Taxes were a contributing factor, she said.

“I am at a loss for words,” LaFreniere said of Verso’s announcement. “We all realize that the paper industry is facing many immediate challenges. Our thoughts are with the many employees, their families and others in the community that will be directly and indirectly affected. As a town, we will get through this together. We are committed to work diligently with the mill during this transition while addressing the needs of our community.”

Verso employees, both those still working and those who have retired, declined to comment.

The production slowdown is expected to have a ripple effect on families of those who will lose their jobs, businesses, Regional School Unit 73, Franklin County and the town and its taxpayers.

It’s the second time in six years jobs were lost in the area because of paper mill reductions. Wausau Paper Corp. permanently shuttered its Otis Mill in Jay, which straddles the Livermore Falls line, in 2009. More than 200 jobs were lost in stages of the closure that began in 2008.

“As far as I am concerned, it is just another nail in the coffin of this industry,” logger Matt Smith of Farmington said. “We see this more and more every day. More reductions and losing jobs in this industry every year.”

Smith and his father, Lloyd Smith, also of Farmington, take their wood to Verso.

“It is just something else that makes it harder and harder to make a living in this industry,” Matt Smith said.

“Every time they do this, it hurts. It hurts a lot,” said Lloyd Smith, 70, who has been in the logging business for about 50 years.

The older Smith said he was skeptical when Verso bought the last bunch of mills and wondered if the company spread itself too thin.

Smith said he hopes to work five more years before retiring.

“It does disturb me when they do what they are doing,” he said. “I’m just hoping they last long enough.”

He said he is concerned about Franklin County’s future if this keeps happening.

Matt Smith said they have been struggling for years to recruit youth into the industry and it hasn’t happened. It used to be if you cut wood, you did it for life, he said.

The Maine Pulp and Paper Association issued a statement Thursday afternoon, stating, “Maine families are of utmost importance to the state’s pulp- and paper-making industry. As an organization, ?the Maine Pulp and Paper Association and its members will work with one another, local and state government officials, and other stakeholders to support the workers whose livelihoods have been effected by today’s announcement. We urge folks to visit their local CareerCenter to be connected to these and other resources.

“Additionally, our efforts will continue in Augusta and (Washington,) D.C., on issues that support the success of the industry, such as ?air and water quality, the sustainability of forests and competitive energy, transportation and fiber costs. Government support is critical to the long-term success of Maine’s pulp and paper industry.”

Glenda DiPompo of Jay, who owns Riverside Kwik Stop with her husband, Bob, said she does not know how Verso’s plans will affect their 40-year-old business. It is on the corner of Riley Road, the road Androscoggin Mill is on, and Route 4 in Jay.

“We survived the (1987-88 International paper mill) strike,” she said. People were receiving unemployment checks and still stopped at the store.

“What this is going to do, I have no idea,” she said. “It sounds like they are cutting a third of the crew up there. We’re just going to hold on and see what happens.”

Bob Berry, owner of Main-Land Development Consultants Inc., in Livermore Falls, said his company is very concerned for the 300 people who will leave the Jay mill and for all those in Kentucky where Verso is idling its Kentucky mill and laying off about 310 workers.

“We will keep them in our prayers,” Berry said.

“Main-Land also understands that a company, regardless of size, must be flexible and change with market demand. The reduction in paper use promised with the computer is finally becoming a reality,” he said. “In our office, many of our clients, colleagues, contractors and local authorities now prefer electronic submittals in lieu of paper drawings. For all of us that read about this unfortunate day on our smartphones, we contributed to this,” he said. 

“This will have a negative effect on our local economy, but we encourage folks to look forward,” Berry said. “Be a part of a new economic growth that will increase opportunity in our area. Start a new business. Create a garage workshop. Reach out to the (Jay, Livermore, Livermore Falls) Chamber of Commerce or Greater Franklin Development Corp. for business ideas or other industries in our area looking for skilled workers. You make your future,” he said.

“I’m in shock,” just as everyone else is, Franklin County Commissioner Charles “Charlie” Webster said. “I don’t know what we can do about it but these jobs are very important to the people of Franklin County,” he said.

Webster said he has contacted the governor’s office and Rep. Russell Black, R-Wilton, about the situation.  

“I am very saddened by the announcement that Verso will be eliminating 300 jobs in our local community,” Denise Rodzen, chairwoman of the RSU 73 school board said. “It will have long reaching affects for our towns and schools, but especially those we know as family, friends and neighbors.

“My first concern is that we take care of our own, that we work together to provide aid where and when needed, that we work together as a community to attract new businesses to replace the jobs eliminated and that we also consider the impact this will have on our children,” she said. “My heart goes out to all those impacted, may our selectpeople work together to bring possibilities and hope to our community during this most difficult time.”

Livermore Falls Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Louise Chabot echoed concerns that the loss of jobs will have far-reaching effects.

“Verso’s announcement today will have long-term effects on both communities of Livermore Falls and Jay,” Chabot said. “The impact of Verso’s decision will take some time to absorb before the town is able to determine what steps need to be taken to minimize any possible financial consequences. We will also need to contact our state Representative, Paul Gilbert, to determine what may be available from the state for the town, if necessary.”

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Maine Department of Labor to assist affected workers

AUGUSTA — The Rapid Response team of the Maine Department of Labor contacted the human resources regional managers of Verso Paper Corp. regarding the planned reductions in staffing at the Jay mill. The (Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act) notification will be issued Thursday with a projected layoff of up to 300 workers. The company anticipates that these layoffs will occur over a period of several months.

“The cost of doing business in Maine continues to have a negative effect on our workers and their families,” Gov. Paul R. LePage said. “As we did last fall in Bucksport, we will use all available resources to assist these workers and the Jay community.”

The Rapid Response team will be meeting with company officials as soon as possible to set up a plan of action, including filing for trade assistance and working with all partners in the area.

“Our team can answer questions families will have over the coming months and help them plan for this transition,” Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette said. “Our assistance is not limited to unemployment benefits, but includes information about health insurance options, career planning, training support and job search guidance. Do not hesitate to contact the CareerCenter to ask for help. Many people will be facing difficult choices and support is available to aid you and your family as you consider your options.”

Workers in this area are served by the Wilton, Skowhegan and Lewiston CareerCenters. The Wilton CareerCenter, located at 865 US Route 2E in Wilton, and the Skowhegan CareerCenter, located at 98 North Ave., Skowhegan, are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Lewiston CareerCenter, located at 5 Mollison Way in Lewiston, is open 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. More information is available on the CareerCenter website, www.mainecareercenter.com.

The Rapid Response program of the Bureau of Employment Services assists workers facing job loss because of downsizing or temporary or permanent closures. The Department of Labor can advise and assist employers and employees with information about their rights, responsibilities and obligations during such an event to safeguard the economic stability of workers and the surrounding community. 

To find out more about the Rapid Response program, contact your local CareerCenter. The Bureau of Employment Services provides a variety of employment and training services for Maine workers, businesses and job-seekers through the Maine CareerCenter network, www.mainecareercenter.com.

Maine CareerCenters are equal opportunity providers. Auxiliary aids and services are available to individuals with disabilities upon request.

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