Baileyville, Maine, USA 01 September 2016 -- (From The Bangor Daily News) -- Rolls of tissue were passed around the dozens of people gathered outside the local pulp mill Wednesday afternoon, but not because anybody was upset. The atmosphere was festive as the crowd celebrated the formal opening of the St. Croix Tissue mill adjacent to Woodland Pulp.
The expansion of the facility into the tissue market was hailed Wednesday by officials as a breath of fresh air in Washington County, long one of the more economically challenged areas of Maine, and in the state's troubled pulp and paper industry, which has seen the closure of several mills in the past few years.
"The pulp and paper industry doesn't get many opportunities like this," Marco L'Italien, vice president of mill owner International Grand Investment Corp., told the crowd.
The opening of the St. Croix Tissue facility and its two machines -- one of which began production in March and the other earlier in August -- has created 80 new jobs at a manufacturing site that lost hundreds over the years as paper production in Maine has dwindled.
"That [represents] about a $6 million annual payroll," Scott Beal, spokesman for Woodland Pulp, said.
That is in addition to the 320 people -- and the $25 million in wages they earn each year -- who already work on the pulp production side.
Beal said the $150 million expansion project, which was announced in March 2014, is expected to result in 126 metric tons of tissue being manufactured annually in Baileyville.
L'Italien said the mill's output is estimated to be enough to supply 5 million people each year with tissue products -- about the same number of people who live in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Canada's Maritimes Provinces.
St. Croix Tissue will produce a range of products, from paper napkins and towels to bathroom and facial tissue, for national and international markets, according to its website.
Gov. Paul LePage, who visited the new tissue mill Tuesday, released a statement Wednesday, saying that "opportunists" who showed up for the cameras on Wednesday should take the time to learn about the specific challenges facing Maine's forest products industry. He said energy costs remain too high and that public policy needs to be adjusted to reduce the cost of timber in Maine.
"We cannot take investments like [International Grand Investment Corp.'s] for granted," LePage wrote. "Investment goes where it is appreciated -- not just on celebratory days like today but also how we help them every day on the difficult issues of navigating federal bureaucracy, unforeseen spikes in input costs and the next challenge that surely will confront a competitive industry."
Members of Maine's congressional delegation who attended Wednesday's event struck a more upbeat tone with their remarks.
Sen. Susan Collins said that, despite upheaval in the industry and the mill closures in much of the state, the expansion in Baileyville shows that Mainers still can have careers in making pulp and paper. And, she added, the expertise and dedication that the mill workers bring to their jobs will help ensure its success.
"There is still a bright future for the forest products industry right here in the great state of Maine," Collins said.
Sen. Angus King praised LePage for making two trips to China to help convince International Grand Investment Corp. to make the $150 million investment in bringing tissue manufacturing to Baileyville. He said the investment will help sustain the economy of Washington County for decades to come.
"This is going to make a difference for another generation," King said.
Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who grew up in the Waterville area, noted that many of the mills that employed his relatives when he was young are no more. He echoed some of LePage's concerns, saying that electricity costs need to be reduced, the availability of natural gas needs to be expanded in Maine, and regulations need to be fair and predictable to help make the state's business climate more competitive.
"Government can't create jobs," Poliquin said. "Government can help our job creators create jobs."