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After Park Falls Mill Shuttered Again, Cooperative Group Seeks to Buy

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The reopening of the Park Falls paper mill lasted just a matter of months before another shutdown and more layoffs this spring.

Now, the mill has fallen into receivership once again, but one group has an innovative plan to bring it back.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
The former Flambeau River Papers in Park Falls reopened in September as Park Falls Pulp and Paper.

Last September, the scene was joyful in Park Falls when the century-old paper mill went back online after a year of being idle. An out-of-state ownership group led by Yong Liu had bought the mill, promising to bring back many of the 300 workers that had been laid off since 2017.

But, according to Don Peterson of the Timber Professionals Cooperative, the group shut down the mill and stopped making loan payments in March. It’s been idle since then.

Now, a group called the Park Falls Mill Cooperative wants to buy and operate the mill.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
Yong Liu, the leader of the ownership group that bought the mill last September.

Peterson, who represents the cooperative, said it would get workers’ jobs back and help support sustainable forestry.

“On our end, as quick as we can make it happen, if we do get the possibility of owning that mill, that is our objective,” he said. “The longer a mill that size goes idle, the more potential issues there could be, so the sooner anybody can get it operating, [the better].”

Mills are often owned by investors or private equity groups.

But the Park Falls Mill Cooperative includes local mill workers, suppliers, contractors, and investors, which is a new model for mill ownership.

“I can tell you fairly certainly that there has never been a multi-stakeholder cooperative ownership of a forest industry company in this country,” Peterson said.

Peterson said the cooperative is trying to follow the path of a multi-stakeholder cooperative ownership of a mill in Quebec.

Last year, the City of Park Falls loaned the mill $1 million to help with the mill’s reopening.

Mayor Michael Bablick said he expects the city will be able to recover its investment.

Credit Ben Meyer/WXPR
The paper mill in Park Falls.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He now contributes occasionally to WXPR. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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