COMBINED LOCKS, Wis. - The company that bought Appleton Coated for $21 million while it was in receivership has turned the mill around, and is now operating several machines and offering more than 200 former employees a chance to return to work at the mill.
The company that bought the paper mill is Industrial Assets, and it has renamed the mill, calling it the Midwest Paper Group.
Industrial Assets made the purchase back in October.
The sale was approved by a judge, but as part of the sale agreement, Industrial Assets had to market the mill to potential buyers for 90 days to give it a chance to be turned around.
No one came forward to buy it.
While other paper mills in the area have been shutting down, Industrial Assets started slowly getting some machines turned back on, and calling some employees back to work.
Now, more than 200 employees are going back to the mill.
Mike Macdonald, an Appleton Coated employee of 35 years, was called back to work in November after more than 600 mill workers were laid off in September
He still works at the mill, which is now the Midwest Paper Group, and he says former employees who are getting called back are leaving their current jobs to work at the mill again.
"When that call came, it was a very easy decision for a lot of them," Macdonald said.
Mike Macdonald also said that employees were able to keep the salaries they earned from the years they put in at Appleton Coated, along with better health insurance plans and a fifty-cent raise that's set to take effect in 2019.
He also credits the new company for having a great vision for the future of the mill, and the way the mill will take on the booming industry of brown paper packaging, like the kind Amazon ships to millions of people every day.
"The owners did extensive research into where the brown market will take them," Macdonald said. "Certainly companies like Amazon are a huge, huge boost for our business."
An Appleton Coated employee who put 43 years in at the mill, and is now retired, said he's elated to see the mill make such a comeback while others are shutting down.
"Well during the receivership it was scary because it was a scrapper," George Ulmen, a former employee, said. "And we figured what they did is this is all warehouse down here, all those trucks are warehouse. They're all full of paper. And that was empty. Instead of having a giant warehouse, all those trucks are ready to rock and roll at any time, any time they make a sale, which is really good, because otherwise, it was a ghost town."
Rather than being liquidated, the mill is being invested in. And many employees say they get to return to the job they love.
"I know all of the employees I've spoken to are very, very happy to be back, a lot of them have said it's kind of like coming back home," Macdonald said. "This is where we belong."
So far, three machines are back online at the mill, with more expected to come back online down the road.
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