Reopening of shuttered WA paper mill cause for celebration

2012-11-02 Ashley Bach

It was incredible this week to see the reopening of the Harbor Paper mill in Grays Harbor County, Wash. With the economic downturn, good news has been hard to find, but here it was on the Washington Coast.

Grays Harbor County has the highest unemployment rate in the state (12 percent) and it was just over a year ago that the Grays Harbor Paper mill closed down - possibly for good - and 230 people lost their jobs.

But in September, just 16 months later, the mill reopened with new ownership and a new name (Harbor Paper), bringing back 175 jobs to the coastal community of Hoquiam. This week, Gov. Gregoire and other dignataries joined employees to officially celebrate the reopening.

“Today is a celebration of renewal,” said Gregoire. “The reopening of Harbor Paper is a positive example of what can happen when the state, private investment and local business comes together – and that is they can help rebuild and revive a local economy and community. Paper production has been a constant in Grays Harbor for more than 84 years and has employed many generations of workers. Today that commitment continues and I’m very proud to have played a role in this success story.”

Jean Enersen, an anchor at KING 5 TV in Seattle, said it was "a day that many thought would never come." Mike Johannes, who started working at the mill in 1965 and whose father started there in 1933, told the station: "Paper mills are shutting down all over America and here we are back up and at it again."

The crowd at the opening, many of them employees, gave a standing ovation to the mill's new owner, Cesar Scolari, who said the company has no plans on leaving anytime soon.

More than anything, the opening of the mill means that hundreds of people can restart their lives and a key economic engine in the community is back running.

From KPLU Radio:

(Ron Grant) worked (at the mill) for 16 years before he was laid-off when Grays Harbor Paper closed. He says he and his wife lost their home as a result.

“It was tough," Grant says. "It was very tough. “

Grant got some retraining and his commercial driver’s license. Road work with the state helped pay the bills. Then one day the phone rang.

“I saw the caller ID was Harbor Paper," he recalls. "And I looked at the wife and she looked at me and said ‘why don’t we answer that phone.’ You didn’t have to ask me twice.”

To Grant, feeling the hum of this plant under his feet -- and knowing that he's getting a paycheck feels pretty good.

"Without a doubt,"he says. "I mean it’s something we all when we were out of worked hoped and dreamed would come back someday.”