Good News for Abitibi - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

02/03/05-Lufkin

Good News for Abitibi

by Jessica Cervantez

The future of the Abitibi mill was the focus of a closed door meeting. Taking part in that meeting included Abitibi representatives from both Canada and Lufkin. They met with the executive board of the economic development partnership to talk about possible plans for the paper mill. When they walked out of the meeting they were all smiles.

It has been over a year since more than 500 employees were laid off from the Abitibi mill. But, the economic development board received good news on Thursday.

Debbie Johnston, public affairs director for the mill, said, "The company is making a concerted effort and focus on ways that we can restart the lufkin mill. It won't be without help and support of the community and the state and that is what we were here today talking to them about."

At a luncheon, Johnston told economic development members the company has been working on finding a new paper grade for the past year. The goal is to possibly start producing that paper at the Lufkin mill. Now, they have come up with a light-weight coated grade of paper that might work.

Johnston said, "It is like magazine or catalog paper, there would not be as much competition, and it would be a good profit grade."

There is a deadline for the plan. Abitibi corporate leaders want a recommendation within sixty days, about possible production plans for Lufkin.

Johnston said, "They want to know on exactly the grade that we will be manufacturing, staffing of the mill, and what incentives we can package together to make a capital investment in the Lufkin mill very attractive to the corporation."

Abitibi is still facing challenges with this idea. The company still needs to find ways to keep energy costs down to make it happen. That is why Abitibi is asking for the board's help.

Lufkin's new economic development director has only been on the job for a couple days. He's ready for the challenge.

Jim Wehmeyer said, "Let's see if we can't get the community together I think we will be able to do that, I feel very good about it."

If re-opened, the mill would have about 450 employees on the payroll.

Johnston says it could take up to 18 months to make equipment modifications and start the mill if the plan goes forward. But, some employees could be called back as soon as the deal is finalized, if that happens.

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