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St. Helens mill manager gets thumbs up to continue in St. Helens

by: SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Spotlight file photoA Cascades Tissue Group manager Monday said the company plans to continue operations at the St. Helens mill at least for a few months, and possibly much longer, following the departure of Boise Inc. after Dec. 31.

The announcement means the company will retain its 38 employees currently working on the mill’s Number 3 machine. It also means Cascades Tissue Group would have to hire as many as 22 additional workers by Jan. 1 to pick up tasks currently contracted out to Boise Inc. and a portion of its workforce.

Most of those to be hired would likely come from the pool of 106 Boise Inc. workers expected to be laid off as the publicly held company plans to halt operations in St. Helens at the end of the year.

“As we move into our new configuration, we’ll know what our costs are and whether it’s something we could tolerate or not. So we’ll know within the first few months,” said Eric Prochnow, the Cascades Tissue Group manager at the mill.

“I’m hopeful this will work.”

Also, Prochnow said the company is exploring the possibility of converting the Number 2 paper machine, which is currently being used by Boise Inc. for paper production, into a tissue-making machine. If that were the case, the Canadian-based company would have to hire as many as 90 employees to work the soon-to-be-vacated machine, Prochnow said.

“It’s a pretty extensive conversion, so there is a lot of work to be done,” Prochnow said, adding the conversion process has been occurring for the past month and could take up to a year.

Prochnow traveled to the headquarters of Cascade Tissue Groups’ parent company, Cascades Inc., in Kingsey Falls, Quebec, in late November for a companywide managers meeting to discuss budgets for the upcoming year. He said headed into the meeting that Boise Inc.’s departure and how it affected Cascades Tissue Group’s presence in St. Helens would dominate his conversation with executives.

One possibility had been an expensive move of the Number 3 machine and the positions needed to operate it to the company’s mill in Wisconsin.

Prochnow said it was not a tough sell to convince company executives to remain in St. Helens, but it took some time to make the numbers pencil out based on revenue projections for the upcoming year.

“There was a fair amount of wait-and-see, because we projected where we would be financially and we’ll have to see if we’re going to be there or not,” he said.

Cascades Tissue Group manufactures a variety of paper and recycled paper products and promotes itself as an environmentally conscious company.

In a Nov. 8 press release on the company’s third quarter performance, Alain Lemaire, president and chief executive officer for Cascades Inc., said several factors were negatively affecting the company.

“The results for our third quarter did not meet our expectations due to a strong Canadian dollar, operational issues, higher recycled office paper costs and a stronger seasonal decline in activity level in Europe,” Lemaire said.

Third quarter sales of $906 million were down 4 percent over the prior quarter and 4 percent versus sales of $947 million in the same time period last year, according to the release. The company’s performance in North America, however, exceeded last year’s for the third quarter.

The company employs more than 12,000 people who work in more than 100 production plants across North America and Europe, according to its website.

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