By Joe Bachman
The three mayoral candidates weighed in with various views on the recent news of Verso Corp. filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday night.
The forum, hosted by the Women League of Voters in Wisconsin Rapids, put an array of questions for the three candidates running for mayor. The candidates were asked about the chapter 11 bankruptcy filed by Verso Corp., who owns paper mills in Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point.
“The loss of jobs has been going on in the paper industry for years and I’ve been affected by it. I worked in the paper industry for 37 years.” said Robert Nash. “I don’t see the mills shutting down, but I see machinery shutting down. They come in and they shut down a machine – they did that in Nekoosa, twice, and it affects the 12 to 14 people that work on that machine, but it also affects maintenance and clerical people.”
Nash would go on to imply the dangers of shutting down either mill and it’s effects on other mills in the area, and that development of the industrial parks must be considered.
“Now you can have a craft mill, and run it and make money. You can’t have a paper mill without a craft mill and make money.” said Nash. “I would hope that they would keep both operations open, but there’s nothing to say that the paper end of it might be shut down, and that’s the scary thing, which is another reason why we need to diversify and push development in our industrial parks and business parks.”
Mayor Zach Vruwink carried an optimistic, but cautious view of the recent bankruptcy. He cited foreign competition as a source for some of the financial woes carried by Verso Corp.
“Obviously, that industry is challenged with the decline and demand for the product, and the foreign product brought into this country creates additional constrain on that industry.” said Vruwink. “I’m committed to continuing to have those dialogues with Verso to ensure that they remain a viable employer in this community for a long time to come.”
Vruwink would also state that the bankruptcy wasn’t a surprise at all, and that Verso Corp needs to work through the financial process to ensure success.
“This is a legacy industry, and an industry that will continue to innovate itself and stay alive.” said Vruwink. “Bankruptcy didn’t come as a major surprise – and we look forward to a speedy process, and it’s good to hear that they aren’t cutting head count, locally, — it’s a process to eliminate the 2.4 billion in debt, and they need to work through that to stay viable.”
Chris Marceau sees the potential financial troubles of Verso as a reason and an opportunity to get into newer industries and business into the area.
“Relationship with Verso is very important. – I’d have to sit down with who’s in charge and find out if the problem goes all the way back.” said Marceau. “I want to get some big businesses here, in the industrial park, but I also want to keep the relationship going with Verso.”
Marceau continued to be optimistic about his ability to bring in new businesses in Wisconsin Rapids, and in the industrial park.
“If they need a morale boost, I want them to know that I’m there.”
The primary election for mayor is Feb. 16, and the top two vote-getters will move on to the Apr. 5 general election.