Wednesday, February 3rd, 2021: Full Task Force
SUMMARY: The task force meeting was moved to 9:30 AM to accommodate a legislative schedule change. Notice was provided to the task force participant list via email late in the day on February 2. Some 30+ participants were on the call-in-only meeting on February 3.
Rep. Krug reported that he had spoken on Feb 1 to David Sams of Verso, who is once again the manager of the Wisconsin Rapids mill. Krug noted that the Timber Producers cooperative has submitted to Verso, a letter stating their interest in purchasing the mill based upon the information made available by Verso and by its consultant Moeliss and Company.
Krug stated that Verso has again begun marketing the mill, and is replying to inquiries about a sale. Krug also noted that it is his understanding that Verso now no longer seeks to sell the entire mill complex and operation. Verso, he said, continues also to assess and consider all its options, including the (partial) sale of the mill but also possibly re-opening the mill and possibly pursuing other outcomes as well.
Krug also reported that he had talked by phone with Governor Evers and with Secretary Missy Hughes of WEDC and asked Sec. Hughes for comments. Sec. Hughes stated that WEDC has been working with Verso and on the mill situation on two fronts: 1. Trying to use the WEDC Targeted Industry Project to assist and effect decisions and resolution, and 2. Pursing a grant or grants from the US Economic Development Administration (EDA) to provide resources for the effort to explore the mill’s future. In addition, she said, WEDC has been in conversations with UW-Stevens Point and other knowledge institutions about how the mill might be considered and (re)purposed.
Stacey Johnson of WEDC offered her assistance and availability to anyone with questions about WEDC’s activities and role to date.
Rep. Krug noted that the conversations that are taking place, encompass trends and plans for the entire paper industry in the state and nationally; and go beyond the particulars of the Verso Mill in Wisconsin Rapids.
Krug offered the observation that while there have been some case-by-case issues with former employees at Verso needing assistance to obtain UI benefits, TAA benefits, and other assistance, he feels that 1. On the whole things have gone well and the people needing help are getting it, and 2. Generally, laid-off Verso employees who have sought other work have been able to find it, although often not at the same level of pay and benefits as they enjoyed at Verso. He credits the many partners of the task force who have worked to make this all possible.
Sen. Testin echoed these comments and offered his thanks as well.
Rep. Shankland stated that Jane Spencer of the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board had emailed with an update about the WIOA Title 1-Dislocated Worker Program and Rapid Response services to former Verso employees. Since Spencer could not be on the call, Shankland asked that her email be shared with task force members. (This has been done)
Rep. Krug said that he wants the task force to return to a collaborative model or framework in the near future, and that today’s call would be more of a simple situation update, he anticipates another task force meeting soon that will be an opportunity for discussion and input by all members.
Krug also stated that if a need for legislation is discerned by the task force in the future, he and other area lawmakers will be able to assist.
Krug concluded by saying that he does not expect an imminent monumental announcement of a thousand jobs returned to Wisconsin Rapids at the mill, but instead that the situation does now seem to be evolving into an opportunity to once again have a significant pulping operation in the city and this would be welcomed by many in the area and the state.
Sen. Bewley thanked everyone for their work and cooperation to date, and noted that the discussions and efforts have been wider than the immediate situation in Wisconsin Rapids and have indeed been about industry trends, future developments, and potential for the state.
Scott Suder of the Wisconsin Paper Council stated that the Paper Council continues to seek involvement in future discussions and urged the task force to assist any and all prospective potential buyers in their inquiries. Rep. Krug stated his willingness to see the task force work with anyone willing to approach it, but added that to his knowledge the only serious prospective buyer for the mill to date is the Timber Producers cooperative, and that any person or entity wishing to work with the task force needs to make themselves known to the task force in order to be accommodated.
Sec. Hughes affirmed that WEDC would also work with any interested prospective buyers as they might make themselves known to WEDC.
It was arranged that the next meeting would be scheduled as a “committee of the whole” meeting as soon as there seemed to be new information to share and / or new topics to be addressed.