OLD TOWN, Maine — It has been a year since New York City-based Patriarch Partners purchased the former Georgia-Pacific paper mill here, and on Thursday afternoon company founder and CEO Lynn Tilton was joined by Gov. John Baldacci and other officials to mark the anniversary.
Speaking to a crowd of about 40 in a training facility owned by the mill, Baldacci expressed his appreciation for Tilton’s investment in the community — purchasing the shuttered facility at auction last October for about $19 million, implementing a number of upgrades and keeping local workers on the payroll. Now doing business as Old Town Fuel & Fiber, the largely automated mill employs about 190 workers.
“Lynn Tilton’s vision has been impressive and her commitment to the workers has been unwavering,” Baldacci said. “These are good jobs with good benefits that have a ripple effect through the community.”
Tilton — who accepted a basket of Maine-made products from the governor, a bouquet of flowers from a union official, and a commemorative “canoe to the city” from Old Town City Manager Peggy Daigle — said the success of the Old Town operation is a “truly great story” she tells often.
“In the end, it’s always about the people,” she said. In other parts of the country, she said, “people wake up each day and think about themselves and give little thought to the neighbor next to them. In this community, people think about each other.”
The former papermaking facility, which has been a mainstay of the area economy since it opened in 1860, has had a number of incarnations and owners over the years, beginning as a sawmill and later serving as a pulp mill, paper mill and tissue mill. Its mission, however, shifted in late fall 2006, when a group of investors calling themselves Red Shield Environmental was formed to restart the mill, which Georgia-Pacific had closed in March of that year, putting 462 employees out of work. Though that group hoped to reinvent the facility as a maker of pulp and biofuel, Red Shield declared bankruptcy in June 2008, laying off about 160 workers.
Patriarch Partners purchased the mill that fall and began immediately to bring workers back.
The papermaking machines are gone, but the facility continues to produce high-quality pulp to sell to the paper industry and also generates electricity by burning bark, treetops and other byproducts of the pulp process.
Under Tilton’s ownership, Old Town Fuel & Fiber also has become “greener” — recycling chemicals used in the pulp digesters and converting part of the operation from burning low-quality fuel oil to burning cleaner natural gas.
Tilton’s business plan for Old Town Fuel & Fiber also calls for the production of the biofuel butanol, using waste from the pulp-making process. That capacity should be in place within the next two years, she said.
Thursday also marked the annual meeting of the Maine Pulp and Paper Association. Speaking Thursday morning at the event in Dedham, Baldacci praised Tilton’s innovation and highlighted the need to steward Maine’s forest resources and rebuild the country’s manufacturing base.
Tilton was scheduled to speak at the association dinner Thursday night.
Tilton founded Patriarch Partners in 2000. The venture capital company holds more than $6 billion in equity and secured loans in more than 70 distressed businesses with controlling interest in approximately two-thirds of these. It has a mission of preserving jobs, returning value to investors and “making the world a better place,” according to its Web site.
On the Web: www.patriarchpartners.com
BDN writer Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.