Park Falls Anticipates New Future After Paper Mill Sale, Layoffs

Sep 25, 2019

Credit Ben Meyer/WJFW

The role of the century-old paper mill in Park Falls may be much different after the sale of the business last week.

Price County Judge Kevin Klein granted a new company, Element Ventures, ownership of the mill after it had gone into receivership.

Park Falls Mayor Michael Bablick expects the Flambeau River Papers mill to reopen under new ownership with about 50 employees, a fraction of what it had in early 2018.

“Two years ago, there were 300 employees there.  At the beginning of May, there were 170-ish.  Now, right before this next temporary shutdown, there were 100,” Bablick said.

Flambeau River Papers, headed by William “Butch” Johnson, has owned the mill since 2006.  In that year, it was shut down for several months before Johnson, with the help of the administration of then-Gov. Jim Doyle, bought it and reopened it.

But multiple rounds of layoffs and business struggles sent the mill into receivership this summer.

The buyer, Element Ventures, is headed by Johnson’s son, William Johnson Jr.

Bablick feels the decline of the mill is more than just an economic challenge for the city.

“It’s this omnipresent thing for so many in this community, and I feel like the possibility of it not being there is as much an economic issue as it is an emotional issue,” he said.  “This city itself has never existed without the paper mill.”

Bablick is proud of Park Falls’ other business opportunities and quality of life.  He’s hoping those elements help the city keep expanding beyond the mill as its economic base.

“It would be in the city’s best interest, and we have started to do it a little bit over the past 20 years, to diversify so we are not so reliant on the paper mill for our economic livelihood,” Bablick said.