The announcement that Wausau Paper plans to sell its mills in Mosinee and Rhinelander has touched off a flurry of activity by local community leaders. There is more than good-paying jobs at stake.
After a New York hedge fund, Starboard Value, gobbled up stock in Wausau Paper, what followed was the closure of the company's oldest mill in the little town of Brokaw, devastating the local economy and putting the community's very future in doubt. Now, Rhinelander Mayor Richard Johns is hoping the same thing won't happen in his city: “It's a bad thing to happen into a community. Everybody's on edge, I'm sure of that. Not only the city of Rhinelander, it's employees from all over the area, Crandon, Tomahawk, Merrill, right up the line.”
The Rhinelander mill employs more than 440 people. Johns says he's been on the phone trying to save the jobs: “I made a couple phone calls. We're working on everything we can. At this time we have to be patient and see what happens.”
Further south, Dave Eckmann is also working the phones to save the Mosinee mill. The head of MCDEVCO, the economic development arm of the Wausau Chamber, held a meeting with Governor Walker's office. “Hopefully, we can find the right companies to purchase them, meaning those companies that would plan to keep and expand the facility's production activities. It's going to take a broad coalition of leadership.”
Eckmann says he's not just worried about the jobs at the Mosinee mill. “You're talking 450 to 500 jobs. Good, high wage paying jobs. You know, the bigger picture, what about Wausau Paper Corporation corporate offices?”
The Starboard hedge fund wants to move the headquarters out of Wisconsin, and is waging a proxy fight to take over the company board of directors. Wausau Paper spokesman Perry Grueber says the decision to sell the Mosinee and Rhinelander mills was not due to pressure by Starboard executives.