A Fox Valley paper mill is back in action, complete with a new name.
What was Appleton Coated is now operating under the name Midwest Paper Group.
The plant in the village of Combined Locks shut down in October while the owners went through receivership.
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Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson praised the re-start.
“Make no mistake, Appleton Coated’s turnaround will be remembered as one of the biggest grassroots economic success stories in a long time,” Nelson said, creating union members for attending receivership hearings in September and helping convince a judge, and the new owners, that the mill was still viable.
Now, months later, 230 of them are back on the job. Most of the workers are in the union and worked at the mill, where 600 people used to be employed, for years before it closed.
A staff representative for the United Steelworkers, Denny Lauer, said some workers got other jobs, but he said they are glad to be back at the mill. “When you have worked someplace for 20, 25, or 30 years it becomes a family,” Lauer said.
The name is not the only thing that is changing at the mill. Workers will still make free sheet coated paper used for stationery or in printers but they are also making “brown paper” that can be turned into cardboard. Brown paper is more in demand because of online shopping and shipping.
Los Angeles-based Industrial Assets Corp., acquired the 129-year-old facility along with Maynards Industries USA in Detroit.
Production began on a small scale last December, and members of the United Steel Workers Union ratified a contract April 1. Three machines are now up and running.
Lauer said United Steelworkers will try to change Wisconsin receivership laws because they are “unfair to business.” Lauer said the rules often do not give owners enough time to stay afloat financially.
“They go right into auction and they’re auctioned off to the highest bidder, and basically you can lose your whole company and get shut down or scrapped out versus having the ability to restructure,” Lauer said.
Nelson has also criticized the receivership process, arguing companies like electronics manufacturer Foxconn get incentives packages but small- to mid-sized employers like Appleton Coated often do not get the same consideration.
Nelson said the reboot of what is now Midwest Paper Group should give other manufacturers in the Fox Valley and elsewhere hope.
“It’s the story of how one community fought back against complete odds and won,” Nelson said.
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