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Sale of Verso Wickliffe, Ky. mill may be close

WICKLIFFE, Ky. (From news reports) -- The chief executive officer of Verso Corp. told investors he expects the shuttered Wickliffe, Ky. paper mill to be sold by the end of September.

During a conference call/webcast for investors, CEO Christopher DiSantis provided an overview of the company's second quarter performance, the challenges it faces going forward, and the company's greater emphasis on cash flow and debt reduction.

"We also expect, on the cash side of the business, to generate some proceeds through the sale of the Wickliffe mill in the third quarter and use those proceeds to reduce debt," DiSantis said. "We're very close on that."

While saying he has not been contacted about any potential sale of the mill property, Ballard County Judge-Executive Todd Cooper said the county is ready to assist any way it can. "That would be amazing," Cooper said. "We're hoping and praying there are talks in the works. We're looking forward to any way we can help an eventual sale of the property with any type of tax incentives that we can help create. Anything that brings jobs to our community we're going to be on board to do."

Verso announced the closure of the mill in April 2016. The facility had been idle since November 2015. About 300 employees were laid off in the closure the company said was due "a continuing and accelerated decline in demand for the company's coated paper products ..."

Formerly operating as NewPage Holdings and MeadWestvaco, the plant had been a staple of Ballard County for decades, serving as its largest employer.

The paper mill property includes some 2,000 acres, according to Cooper. It has rail access as well as Mississippi River access via its own port.

Ballard County has a trained workforce available, and any new employer would be a boon to the entire region, he said. The county still receives property taxes from the mill site, the judge-executive said, but at a lowered assessment since operations ceased. The county also is missing the 1 percent occupational tax the industry paid.

"I've been researching this stuff for about a year," Cooper said. "There's been mills that have sat idle for six to eight years. We'll take anything ... it's jobs, jobs, jobs. If it's 50 or 100, it doesn't matter."

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