Success of program helps job creation in Maine

When the new owners of Woodland Pulp decided to integrate operations in 2010, there were numerous hurdles. The updating, and integrating of a paper mill required a $120 million investment, a skilled workforce was required, and capital both flexible, and affordable was critical. The answer was the New Markets Tax Credit program. Qualification is based on an economic benefit for a census track economically distressed. The mill’s upgrade, and expansion saved 320 jobs, and created an additional 80. The area is so distressed, some employees have a two-hour drive to work.

Additional investments were required for the top line equipment used to retrofit the mill, and training the local workforce. As a non-profit corporation for community development, CEI Capital Management agreed to finance the project. This involved a collaboration with several private, and public entities including the state department of labor, and the local community college for the training of hundreds of employees. The multiple shifts required for the two plants necessitated special skills including an understanding of the metric system, materials process flow calculations, and advanced math. The operators of the new equipment had to understand automated process controls systems, and logic. Skilled operators were required for the pulp mill, and general maintenance mechanics, and instrumentation, and electrical technicians were also required.

The Washington County Community College had 38 students who entered the training course for paper-making technology. The project hired 17, with 41 additional individuals hired by St. Croix Tissue. The new hires began working in September of 2018. The infrastructure for training new recruits was established by the collaboration. The positions in the mill pay higher wages than the rest of the region due to the Maine New Markets Tax Credit program, with excellent chances for advancement.

The local opportunities for jobs have not been limited to the 80 new positions that were available at the St. Croix Tissue plant. The estimation is hundreds of positions will become available due to the indirect influence of the project. This includes gas stations, restaurants, and numerous additional local businesses. The creation of jobs has already increased for truckers because of the stability provided by transporting the products of the mill. The local construction companies who participated in the project have already received more work.

The success of the workforce retention, and the training was only possible with a collaboration. Many new opportunities have opened within the region, and the commitment is being placed on new partnerships, and collective sustainability.