BUCKSPORT, Maine — The town has taken the first steps toward creating a pulp and paper course that would prepare residents for work in the paper mill here.
Earlier this month, councilors approved the expenditure of $4,300 to have Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor develop a curriculum for the course.
Developing the curriculum is one of the early steps in establishing the course, according to David Milan, Bucksport’s economic development director. Milan stressed that it is really too early to talk about the course itself since it likely will take several years before it is available.
“It’s a pretty robust project and there are a lot of different parts that will have to fall in place,” Milan said. “It is going to take years to develop this and evaluate it. Right now, we have a lot of different things going on.”
That development process already involves the town and EMCC, along with RSU 25, the local school district, and Verso Paper Co., which operates one of its four mills in Bucksport.
The initial town investment for curriculum development came from Tax Increment Financing funds allocated through a TIF agreement on the mill’s new biomass boiler project. Councilors in January approved the TIF, which allows a portion of new property taxes from the project to be used for economic development projects. The pulp and paper course was specifically identified as a potential use for the TIF revenues.
“The council feels that this is a very good use of TIF funds: to be able to use funds to develop a labor force for the company that’s involved in the TIF,” Milan said Tuesday.
Although the number of workers employed at the Bucksport mill has shrunk in the past decade, Verso officials have noted that the work force at its mills is aging and that the company is actively looking for workers to replace those who retire in the coming years.
“We need to be able to transfer the knowledge that’s currently in our mills to the new folks coming in,” Verso spokesman Bill Cohen said Tuesday.
Cohen added that Verso is one of few paper companies in the country actively working to ensure that transfer of knowledge happens in an “appropriate and timely manner.”
“This is real out-of -the-box thinking on the part of Roger [Bucksport Town Manager Roger Raymond] and David,” he said. “The entire company commends them for the way they’re thinking on this.”
Verso already has a relationship with Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield, which offers a pulp and paper course, and Cohen said that having a local course available not only will help to provide the mill with a trained labor force, but also will provide additional options for area residents.
Milan agreed, noting that while the pulp and paper course is geared to providing new workers for the mill, it also will provide training and eventually employment for residents in the area.
“This will be an opportunity for anyone who has an interest in papermaking and wants a job that provides a livable wage,” Milan said.