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Sartell Reflects On Paper Mill Closing

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(credit: CBS) Holly Wagner
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SARTELL, Minn. (WCCO) – The Verso Paper mill was once a pillar of stability in Sartell, Minn., but after Thursday’s announcement that it will not reopen the community is saddened, stunned and bracing for a financial hit.

The 100-year-old building “meant jobs, part of…the old town feel,” said Linda Harris, who grew up in the area.

“Everybody was hoping it would rally back,” she said. “I know quite a few people who worked [in the mill], and the job loss is horrendous.”

The mill’s closing means 260 employees will be out of work.

“A lot of them just don’t know what they are going to do next,” Harris said.

Gov. Mark Dayton spoke in Sartell on Friday, saying he and other politicians, such as Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, are committed to bringing employers to the mill.

“Today is the first day of the next 100 years,” Dayton said. “And we are going to do everything humanly possible…to make that day, in the near future, one of ribbon-cutting and celebration.”

A problem facing many union workers is that they have no other job experience.

“What we’re going to need help with,” one worker said “is how to…go to interviews and do resumes and stuff.”

The worker said some haven’t done such a thing in 30 years.

Sartell’s population is 15,000, and those with service jobs are also getting ready for a drop in business due to the mill’s closing. At G-Allen’s restaurant at the edge of town, the owner, Glenn Stocker, is expecting to see losses. However, he said he’s more concerned about the welfare of his customers and his community.

“Sartell is a strong community, they will get through it,” he said. “It’s just in this economy it’s a hard time for anybody to be looking for work.”

A plaque in a park across the river from the mill marks the building’s century-long stay in Sartell. The mill initially closed earlier this summer after sustaining crippling damages in a Memorial Day explosion and fire, which killed one worker and injured four others and required days and days of firefighting.

The Tennessee-based company that owns the mill said it based its decision to close its Sartell operation because of how long it would take to rebuild and the tough economy.

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