Ripon paper giant closing after 44 years

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RIPON — A Ripon paper plant that has long been a part of the nucleus to the community’s industrial base is closing — a move that has touched the hearts of its workers and their families.

“It’s sad, sad news for this tight-knit group of employees — some of whom have worked there since its inception,” said Lisa Rosa whose parents had both worked at the Fox River plant for years.

Andrew Douma — the late father of the former Ripon police chief Harvey Douma — worked diligently to bring the plant to the community in 1965 and seeing it locate near the Stanislaus River. Douma had found two separate locations for the firm, according to historical society spokesman John Mangelos.

“When one chapter closes, another opens,” Mangelos said. “We hope it will be a good one.”

He added that he feels another industry will locate in the closed paper mill bringing prosperity with its move into Ripon.

Red Nutt, Ripon chamber of commerce president and city council member, said he remembers well when the paper mill and Nestle’s Coffee were the two biggest employers in town along with a number of trucking companies.

Nutt said he feared the closure would have some affect on the community since many of the mill’s employees live in Ripon.

It was last week that Neenah Paper announced its plans to permanently close its fine paper mill in Ripon. Operations at the mill have produced some 35,000 tons of paper annually.

The operation will be orderly phased out within the next two months and it will be absorbed by the company’s other fine paper mills.

Company president John O’Donnell said, “This decision is consistent with our strategy to drive consolidation in the premium fine paper category through leading brands and a cost efficient manufacturing platform. Closing the Ripon mill allows us to significantly reduce costs and simplify our supply chain without compromising our ability to serve our customers.”

He praised the Ripon employees for doing an outstanding job this year working safely and efficiently despite reduced schedules that have resulted from lower market demands.

“We will now focus on assisting these employees through this difficult transition as well as marketing the site to potential buyers,” he said.

The mill closure is expected to result in a pre-tax charge to earnings of approximately $17 million in the second quarter comprised of $6 million in non-cash charges, primarily for the write-down of production assets at the Ripon facility and another $11 million related to cash payments for contract terminations, severances and other employee costs. Some $7 million would be paid in 2009 with the remaining payments in 2010 and beyond, O’Donnel said.

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