ORONO, Maine — Workers laid off last November from the former Red Shield plant in Old Town got good news on Tuesday when Gov. John Baldacci helped announce that the pulp processing mill has reopened under a new name and is hiring.
“One hundred and seventy hardworking Maine people are going back to work over the coming months and weeks in Old Town,” Baldacci said, speaking at a media event at the University of Maine. “In the midst of a national recession, when daily headlines are focused on downsizing companies, we are announcing the re-opening and retooling of a Maine facility in one of our state’s most important industries.”
The new name of the old mill, which has been a cornerstone of the regional economy for more than a century, is Old Town Fuel and Fiber. In addition to producing wood pulp for the papermaking industry, the plant will work closely with researchers at the University of Maine to develop new technologies for converting pulp-processing waste into a renewable biofuel.
On Tuesday, Old Town Fuel and Fiber president Dick Arnold said UMaine researchers already have identified a process for turning the manufacturing waste into gasoline additives and other “high-value chemicals.”
Arnold said the reinvention of the traditional paper mill into a combined pulp and biofuel plant represents “true American manufacturing at its best.
“And without American manufacturing, there can be no economic recovery,” he said.
Baldacci said Maine is well positioned to capitalize on the growing support for using renewable energy technologies, such as the biofuel alternatives under development at Old Town Fuel and Fiber and the University of Maine, to reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels.
The governor said that forest products contribute more than $10 billion to Maine’s economy and employ more than 19,000 people. Forest-based recreation contributes more than $1 billion and another 12,000 jobs, he said.
“Maine industry leaders continue to prove that environmental and economic sustainability are not mutually exclusive,” he said.
Old Town Fuel and Fiber already has hired about 100 workers, according to Arnold, and will be up to 170 within a few weeks.
The former Georgia-Pacific paper mill closed in May 2006, idling about 400 workers. It was purchased in 2006 by the Red Shield Acquisition investment group and switched to producing wood pulp to sell to the papermaking industry. Red Shield, which employed about 180 workers, also burned wood and other biomass fuels to generate electricity, which it sold to the power grid.
But in October of last year, Red Shield was acquired by New York-based Patriarch Partners for a reported $19 million, and in November, the plant closed again due to poor market conditions for pulp, laying off all but a handful of employees.
“Since acquiring Red Shield this past November, we have been privileged to work with the company’s talented management and dedicated work force to put employees back to work and position this company for the future,” Patriarch Partners CEO Lynn Tilton said in a prepared statement Tuesday. Patriarch Partners describes itself as a $6 billion private equity firm specializing in rebuilding American industrial companies.
Arnold said Patriarch Partners is committed to supplying the financial backing needed to maintain operations — and jobs — at Old Town Fuel and Fiber. However, the pay scale at the reopened plant will be lower than it was at Georgia-Pacific or Red Shield, he said. He declined to be more specific.
The governor also was joined by Commissioner Patrick McGowan of the Maine Department of Conservation to celebrate the expansion of forested land in Maine that is under conservation management.
Commissioner McGowan said the state has made great progress in protecting forestlands for environmental and recreational use, while continuing to support both the forest products industry and nature-based tourism.
In recent years, the percentage of forested land under conservation management has increased from about 5 percent to almost 18 percent, he said, including both public and privately owned parcels. He credited local and regional land trusts, the Nature Conservancy, the Appalachian Mountain Club and other environmental groups for working in partnership with paper companies and other large landowners to protect Maine’s forests.