WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wisconsin (From news reports) - A cooperative formed after the closure of Verso's paper mill has toured the facility and filed a letter of intent to purchase the Wisconsin Rapids mill, State Rep. Scott Krug, R-Nekoosa, told the Wisconsin Rapids Together Task Force Wednesday.
The group met briefly Wednesday morning for the first time since October.
Krug told the task force he has been talking with David Sams, Verso's vice president of environmental health, safety and sustainability; Gov. Tony Evers; and members of the Consolidated Cooperative, which was formed by the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association with the intent to purchase the mill.
Krug said Sams told him Verso would continue running converting operations at the mill, and Verso is continuing to weigh all of its options, including possibly restarting the entire mill themselves.
Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, said the organization has been working closely with the cooperative to learn where the market is and how they can "plug into that" market. WEDC is also working with the co-op to secure grants, Hughes said.
Scott Suder, president of the Wisconsin Paper Council, told the task force that while he supports the cooperative's efforts, it is possible that other groups could have non-disclosure agreements with Verso that prevent them from talking about their interests. Suder said the task force should support any prospective buyers for the Wisconsin Rapids mill.
The Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association created Consolidated Cooperative with plans to get timber professionals, community members and millworkers involved to own and run the mill. The timber co-op became an official entity Aug. 3 and set money aside for a feasibility study to look at options that could work for the Rapids mill. By mid-August, the group had formed a steering committee and was looking for other groups that might be interested in forming a multi co-op group to run the mill.
Last fall, Verso said it would halt efforts to sell the mill because COVID-19 restrictions made it difficult for the company to market the mill and to allow prospective buyers to travel to tour it. While the company said it would not actively market the mill, all options were still being considered.
Krug said Wednesday afternoon that Verso seems to be moving on from that stance and opening up the process of selling the Rapids mill again.
Shawn Hall, the director of communications for Verso, said Wednesday afternoon that the company is continuing to explore options for the Wisconsin Rapids mill, but Verso did not have an update at this time.
Verso announced in June it would indefinitely stop production at its paper mills in Wisconsin Rapids and Duluth, Minnesota, while "exploring viable and sustainable alternatives for both mills," including restarting them if market conditions improve, selling them or closing permanently.
Verso has said the decision to idle the plant stemmed from a decline in demand for graphic paper due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Retail, sports, entertainment and tourism industries reduced their use of print advertising during safer-at-home orders.