EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Katahdin Paper Co. LLC officials who thought their mill would have to shut down this week are finding much to their pleasure that not only is the mill going to finish the month with both paper machines running, but that August is looking strong as well.
“August is shaping up nicely,” Bill Peterson, director of human resources for Fraser Papers, the company that Brookfield Asset Management pays to manage its mills in East Millinocket and Millinocket, said Thursday.
Peterson declined to say exactly how many days of August or September the company had booked. Company officials predicted early this month that a shutdown would occur by the end of this week.
Peterson said Thursday that the strong catalog of orders the company is developing might be an indication the Christmas season will be steady and strong.
“I hope the economy is coming back. This is the season when a lot of paper [users] start doing their ordering for the Christmas season,” Peterson said. “Hopefully, with the orders that are coming in we will have a very strong Christmas season and our customers are forecasting a good holiday season.”
Managed by Fraser and owned by parent company Brookfield Asset, the Main Street mill employs about 491 hourly workers making directory-grade papers and newsprint.
Described by one industry analyst several years ago as beneficiaries of a ceilingless market, directory papermakers have been hard hit by the recession. Yet even with that, it was a shock to the Katahdin region when declining orders — and a new company policy of conserving cash by operating only with orders in hand — forced the furlough of as much as three-quarters of the mill’s workforce in February.
With its sister mill in Millinocket temporarily idled since September as Fraser and Brookfield Asset Management officials look to change that mill’s steam generation power from oil to biomass, the East Millinocket mill’s furloughs threatened Katahdin Paper’s status as the region’s largest employer.
But steady orders have had the No. 5 and No. 6 machines at the East Millinocket mill running steadily since June. The mill’s No. 6 machine makes telephone directory-grade paper; the No. 5 makes newsprint.