New paper plant owners eye expansion
PUTNEY -- Just three months after purchasing the former Putney Paper Co., executives with New Jersey-based Soundview Paper Co. are hoping to expand the facility and add jobs.
But they're also looking for state assistance to make that happen. That was the reason for a brief sit-down this week between Soundview administrators and Gov. Peter Shumlin at the Putney plant.
While making no promises, Soundview President and Chief Executive Officer George Wurtz III said business is good in Vermont so far.
"We've been very pleased with the initial investment," Wurtz said. "We're in conversations with the governor to look at potentially continuing to grow our converting capacity and hire more employees within the region."
Soundview formed with the acquisition nearly a year ago of Elmwood Park, N.J.-based Marcal Paper Mills LLC. Marcal -- known for its 100 percent-recycled paper products such as tissues and napkins -- which had entered and emerged from bankruptcy and was about to be liquidated, Wurtz said.
"We went in and looked at the (Marcal) mill, and we decided to buy the mill," Wurtz said.
It so happened that Putney Paper was a Marcal supplier, so Soundview executives visited Vermont. Wurtz recalls a September conversation that went this way: "If you're ever interested in selling, Putney Paper would be a perfect fit with our Soundview Paper business and the Marcal Mill."
About three months later, the deal was done. Soundview took over operation of the Putney plant, headquartered at 67 Kathan Meadow Road, on New Year's Day.
Administrators say they've boosted revenues and profits in Putney while also boosting safety standards.
"Safety has improved dramatically," Wurtz said. "It's a much safer workplace. It's a cleaner workplace."
The acquisition was a strategic move for Soundview: The company, through its continuation of the Marcal brand, already was a player in the "in-home" segment of the paper-product market.
But Wurtz said "away-from-home" products -- for example, paper used in restaurants or hotels -- account for about 34 percent of the business. And that's where Putney comes in, as the mill produces folded towels and napkins for the away-from-home market.
"It gave me access to 34 percent of the market," Wurtz said. "Before that, we were only doing business in one segment of the market."
It helps that the Putney mill produces a 100-percent recycled product.
"Sustainability is important," Wurtz said. "Most of the away-from-home market prefers recycled."
The mill employs 105 -- 95 hourly employees and 10 salaried. But administrators say they can add more equipment and staff without needing to add square footage.
While there is business demand for such a move, Wurtz said the state's eventual decision on whether to assist the company is important.
"We're doing very well. We've invested money. We're looking to invest more money in the facility," Wurtz said. "The reason we're talking to the governor is, we're talking about commitments from the state to increase our capital spending and maybe add more jobs.
"We've asked the governor to consider it," he added after meeting with Shumlin on Monday. "We're going to work with his economic development group to see how we can help the company grow."
Just a day after the meeting in Putney, Shumlin's office was not committing to any financial assistance for Soundview.
"The governor was pleased to tour Soundview and hear about their expansion plans," a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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