Former Potlatch workers, area business owners and officials throughout the Brainerd lakes area were excited to hear that there is a potential buyer for the Brainerd mill.
Potlatch signed a memorandum of understanding with Missota Paper Co., a newly formed company founded specifically to pursue purchase of the Brainerd mill.
"I knew for awhile that they were very close to an agreement," said Sen. Don Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd. "There are still hurdles to iron out. If there is anything I can do through the Legislature that would be an asset to Potlatch, such as permits they need, I will try to help."
Samuelson said the tentative sale of the Brainerd mill is good news for the community.
"A lot of people have been working hard on this ... It is an important issue for us," he said.
Samuelson said the tentative sale came sooner than expected. He said he was nervous with winter approaching that the building would deteriorate and become more difficult to sell.
Bob Harting, president of local Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical, Energy union, said he is satisfied with the company that signed the memorandum of understanding. He said it is a good company and he made a promise to the company that if it bought the mill that he would help get employees back.
"I'm happy as heck to get people back to work," he said.
Lisa Paxton, chief executive officer for the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce, said she is thrilled with the tentative sale. She said everything she heard about Missota Paper Co. is positive and the company would be a great fit for the community.
Craig Nathan of Minnesota Rural Concentrated Employment Program in Brainerd said the news is great for the community. He said the impact on the community, with the payroll and getting people back to work, will have a trickle down effect on the community.
Gail Leverson, Region 5 economic development director, said its goal is job creation and the sale of the mill would meet this goal. She said she would hope the company would grow to employ 616 people and have the same level of wages.
Leverson said there is still economic development opportunities at the Brainerd site and she would encourage the growth.
"What outstanding news to the community," said Dan Vogt, Brainerd administrator. "Hopefully the unemployed will have the opportunity to become employed again."
Whether most of the more than 600 Potlatch workers will want to return to the mill depends on their current situation. Some took early retirement or opted to return to college and don't necessarily want to go back.
Pam Winterfeldt, a three-year Potlatch employee, said today she is pursuing a career in nursing and wouldn't want to return to the mill. However, she said she feels for her former coworkers who had only a few years until their retirement. She said she thinks the reopening of the mill will be a good thing for them and for the entire community.
"It's going to bring a lot of jobs back to Brainerd," said Winterfeldt. "(The mill's closing) has definitely impacted Brainerd. I have friends in retail and they say it has really impacted them."
"Well, it's good news if things go as planned," said former Potlatch worker Kyle Zelinske, vice president of Local 164. "I do think it's great. The community is going to need it. I don't know how quickly things are going to move."
Zelinske, who also is pursuing a nursing career, said he doesn't want to get his hopes up too high about the reopening of the mill. It could take longer than most people think to get the plant up and running again.
Zelinske's father, Ken Zelinske, who spent 40 years at the mill and was active in the union, said he hopes that the new owners will be able to make it work for themselves and the community.
"I think it's good news," said Zelinske. "Every time I drive by that place it makes me sad to see it empty like that."
A Potlatch employee for 29 years, John Jansen said he's not sure if he'd go back to the mill but he would consider it. It would depend on what type of work would be available. He said the new opportunities the reopening of the mill would bring will help the younger Potlatch employees he used to work with.
"I think it would be wonderful, especially for these young kids who were just starting to build their families and buying homes. They were really hurt," said Jansen. "They were just getting a good start in life. It's hard on them."
Paul Andersen, owner of Highway 25 Liquor located not far from the Brainerd mill, was ecstatic to hear that the mill may be sold.
"You just made my day," said Andersen. "You can print that. You just made my week. It's wonderful. As a business owner and a member of this community, this is great news for the entire Brainerd area."
Rick Bollum, an owner of Chopper's restaurant and bar on Mill Avenue, said business has declined about 8 to 12 percent since the mill closed May 18. He was pleased to hear the mill may have a new owner.
"It's hurt us quite a bit," said Bollum. "You can't help but notice 250 cars that aren't driving by here each day."
Brainerd City Council President Lucy Nesheim said the community as a whole worked hard to help make this happen. She also thanked the people involved for their hard work.
"It's such a blessing that we'll be able to put some of the skilled paper workers back to work," said Nesheim. "I'm real excited that it happened."
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