(Host) For more than a century, the paper mill in the Northeast Kingdom town of Gilman has provided steady work for people on both sides of the Connecticut River. When the mill down shut after its owners declared bankruptcy, some feared it was closing for good.
On Monday after a long wait, the plant reopened and 71 newly employed millworkers gathered to celebrate. VPR’s Steve Zind reports.
(Zind) For nearly two and a half years, the paper plant in Gilman was silent. Monday, clouds of steam and a steady hum rose from the plant and, for the first time in a long time, the sound of the mill whistle would carry down the streets of this small river town.
(Peter Hanson) “For over two years this whistle hasn’t blown. That’s why we’re here today.”
(Zind) Peter Hanson is President of Dirigo, the mill’s new owners. The name is Latin for “I lead.’ Hanson says while the plant will begin by producing commodity products like photocopier paper, the company wants to become a leader in more specialized products.
(Hanson) “People don’t realize how many places paper is used in everyday life. It’s not just simply tissue or paper napkins or something like that. It could be laminate on a piece of furniture, it could be an insulator in a computer.”
(Zind) The paper business hit bottom three years ago and Hanson says investors have been reluctant to put money into the industry. That slowed the effort to get the mill up and running. He says despite their bitter experience with the previous owners, the workers have been enthusiastic about reopening the mill.
(Hanson) “The spirit here of the people is just enormous and the will to bring this mill back and the belief in the mill is something wonderful.”
(Zind) One-hundred-twenty people lost their jobs when the mill closed. Bill Dixon was one of them. Dixon says the closing was hard on the town. He’s happy to be collecting a millworker’s paycheck again.
(Dixon) “Oh wonderful, the ripple effect nearly killed this community.”
(Zind) Dixon started working at this mill 36 years ago.
(Dixon) “I worked in high school here, ’68 till I graduated. I started on the paper machine then I went to the boiler room for 30 years.”
(Zind) “You’ve worked here all your life, basically?”
(Dixon) “All my life. I’m the fourth or fifth generation.”
(Zind) Dixon and the other workers who gathered outside in their blue hard hats under the bright sun at noon Monday hope the mill will still be around generations from now.
(Sound of workers chanting a countdown, then the mill whistle blows.)
(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Gilman.