NORTHUMBERLAND, N.H. — A North Country town that's been struggling since its paper mill closed in 2007 and put several hundred people out of work has taken a step toward bringing back jobs.
Northumberland voters on Saturday voted to borrow up to $400,000 to put in water and sewage lines to the 137-acre property formerly the site of Wausau Paper Mill in the village of Groveton. However, the funding is dependent on a federal grant of about $800,000. If the grant is not received, the money will not be raised.
Local and state officials have been trying to bring businesses to the area for years in an impoverished region that's lost about 3,000 jobs in the last decade due to the closing of manufacturers, including a pulp mill in Berlin, an Ethan Allen furniture plant across the state line in Vermont, and the Balsams resort hotel.
A North Country regional specialist for the state's Division of Resources and Economic Development believes the town has a good chance of getting the grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
"I think because the area is distressed as much as it is, those are the kind of areas that they like to obviously assist any way they can," said Beno Lamontagne, North Country industrial agent.
At the peak of the industry in the 1920s, there was a sawmill and at least five paper mills in the North Country. One of the paper mills shut down in 1930, and the industry had been on the decline since.
The question at the town meeting was whether it was smart to take on $400,000 in debt without a guarantee that it would mean more jobs.
"If you people vote no today you are going to throw away a tremendous chance to save this town," said Ken Strong, who spoke in favor of the town taking a chance.
Most buildings on the property have been demolished. Three are left, including two former warehouses and Wausau's former office. There is natural gas at the site, and the county has economic incentives for new construction and job creation. Several businesses have looked at the property in recent years, including an energy development company that considered building a liquefied gas plant, but that proposal fell through.
Economic development officials have promoted North Country relocation and expansion to businesses for years, with an emphasis on Canada. Groveton is about a half-hour from the border.
"Yes, it's certainly far out of the way, and we know that more than three-quarters of the new companies that come to our state come from Massachusetts," Lamontagne said, and most of them don't go that far north.
"If we're going to turn the economy around in northern Carroll, northern Grafton and all of Coos County, it's probably going to come from our largest trading partner, our friends north of the border," he said.