PARK FALLS - This morning, a worker we know in Park Falls got a call.
Story By Ben Meyer
His employer, Flambeau River Papers, told him not to come in. The mill was shut down.
That employee was told no one would be working until the mill had a new owner, and he should file for unemployment.
That's sparked uncertainty for many people in the city.
"You hear a lot of rumors in Park Falls. It's a rumor mill, so to speak," said Mayor Michael Bablick. "We really are still in a shroud of darkness here about what's going on."
About a month ago, the mill gave notice it planned to lay off about 65 of its 187 remaining workers as it went into receivership. That news came after more than 80 jobs were eliminated last year as one of the paper lines closed.
But this abrupt stoppage for all employees was a surprise.
In a statement on Monday, the court-appointed receiver, Madison bankruptcy lawyer Rebecca DeMarb, blamed a paper customer for the closure.
"We have had to idle the plant because the major customer/distributor of Flambeau River Papers did not pay last Wednesday, which they stated was in response to a soft market," DeMarb wrote.
DeMarb is guiding the mill toward a sale to another company.
"They're trying to expedite the process of sale to the interested parties so it can reopen," Bablick said Tuesday. "As mayor, I am absolutely doing everything that I know that I can to restore operations."
A sale would probably still leave many workers without a job, though.
Northcentral Technical College is part of a "Rapid Response" team for people about to be laid off by the mill. Its campuses include nearby Phillips.
"I encouraged individuals to apply to a program. If they're remotely interested in coming back to school, get that application in," said Becky Michels, the Regional Office Manager for the college.
Applications to Northcentral Technical College are now free for Flambeau River Papers employees.
"A variety of those programs are available fully at the Phillips campus, which means that individuals wouldn't have to travel to Wausau to get their education, and they can stay local," Michels said.
In Park Falls, Bablick said he's pushing for state tax incentives to sweeten the deal for a mill buyer, in part because of the outsized role the plant plays in the local economy.
"It's one of those things where it's a watershed that fills up an economic lake. It's a big watershed. There are different watersheds than just the paper mill in this town. But it's a big one," he said.
The mill closed for several months in 2006 before Butch Johnson and Flambeau River Papers bought it and reopened it.
The company's vice president of operations, Aaron Johnson, said in an email he wasn't authorized to comment for this story.