ESCANABA, Mich. (From news reports) - The planned renovation and expansion of the Escanaba paper mill came one step closer to fruition Monday evening as the Wells Township Board voted to approve a Forest Products Processing Renaissance Zone. The renaissance zone allows the mill's owner, Billerud to enjoy a fifteen-year tax abatement. According to Invest UP's Marty Fittante, it's a worthwhile tradeoff considering the size of the investment
"It's the largest investment ever made in the Upper Peninsula and it's really to transform the Escanaba mill," said Fittante. "And so, we're asking the locals to be actually part of that solution by passing a renaissance processing tax exemption."
Billerud, who took over the mill last year, plans to transform the mill, which has struggled with years of declining profits, into a state-of-the-art, high-end packaging manufacturer. Billerud's Vice President of Technical Services, Michael Glodowski sees their new product line as a way to maintain profitability for decades to come.
"The biggest thing that's changing, making we are currently making graphic papers and specialty papers and when I say graphic papers, that is magazines, catalogs, direct mail pieces, and that has been a declining market for decades really." explains Glodowski. "And the products that were going into our cardboard or boxboard and that is it's a type of box that would house high-end items."
Billerud's mission is to retain and grow more than 800 jobs in the Escanaba area. Glodowski believes its new direction will bring prosperity to the Escanaba area for generations.
"I think this is fantastic for the community," said Glodowski. "It's a chance for us to get out of the declining markets that we're in, which frankly always, in the back of my mind has me worried about the longevity of the mill. It's an opportunity for us to get into a growth market and preserve jobs and help the community."
Next up for approving the renaissance zone will be the Escanaba Township Board, whose approval is expected.