North Country
5:08 pm
Tue June 12, 2012

Gorham Paper Hires First New Workers In More Than A Decade

For the first time in more than a decade a paper plant in Gorham – once thought to be dead - is hiring workers.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

 

Just over a year ago a New York investment firm, Patriarch Partners, bought the closed Gorham paper mill and promised a new future.

The Gorham facility was the last paper plant standing in the North Country and many doubted Patriarch’s CEO, Lynn Tilton, could make a go of it where others had failed.

Mark Belanger heads up the New Hampshire Employment Security Office in Berlin. Over the years he’s heard lots of promises from enthusiastic entrepreneurs about lots of projects.

 “I held judgment and I hoped it would happen but I didn’t really get overly excited.”

But Patriarch reopened the plant last year.

Originally 233 workers lost their jobs.

Early this week plant officials said  210 of them are back at work.

The other 23 chose not to return.

And recently the plant ran this ad in a local newspaper:

 “Come grow with us!  Gorham Paper and Tissue, LLC is seeking applicants for production positions in the paper manufacturing process.”

The employment security office’s Belanger says he hasn’t seen that kind of ad in a long, long time.

 “I don’t recall any hiring from 2001 to this day.”

Plant officials say 10 new workers are needed largely because of a new $35 million tissue-manufacturing machine. It expected to increase business.

The bureau of employment security is helping with hiring and Belanger says there has been a huge response from folks looking for work.

“Since we started taking applications mid-week last week we have already given out 400 applications.”

Gorham officials have said there are several keys to the plant’s revival.

One is lowered energy costs.

Earlier this year a plant official said converting from heating oil to natural gas cost about $5.4 million. But it paid for itself in four months.

Another benefit is getting its fiber from Old Town Fuel and Fiber in Maine, which is also owned by Patriarch Partners.

Plant officials say the next step forward will be getting that tissue machine operating later this year.

That will allow the plant to compete in a new and less competitive regional market.

But while this is all good news for the North Country it is a far cry from the good, old days.

Around 2000 the plant had just over 900 employees, Belanger remembers.

For NHPR News this is Chris Jensen.