LINCOLN – What a difference 857 days can make.
It was approximately 857 days ago that investors, workers, politicians and town government officials began battling to revive the former Eastern Pulp and Paper Co. site on Katahdin Avenue, and their chances of resurrecting the cold corpse were dauntingly slim.
The plant was closed, its innards a rapidly decaying environmental hazard, its assets frozen in bankruptcy court, its ownership gone and its work force in shock.
Those responsible for this most unlikely reincarnation gathered Friday for a party celebrating the apex of the site’s rebirth – the dedication of Lincoln Paper & Tissue LLC’s new $36 million tissue machine.
The first such machine installed in Maine since 1990, the addition created about 40 full-time jobs and helped solidify the plant’s 354-worker operation by doubling its tissue-making capacity to make LP&T the region’s largest employer.
With its 200-ton daily capacity, LP&T has created a niche in the worldwide market as a creator of dyed tissue paper and cocktail napkins that could lead to more manufacturing in Maine, said U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
“They have figured out how to be globally competitive,” Snowe said Friday. “They have taken advantage of a great work force and created an innovative manufacturing and marketing plan.”
For Gov. John Baldacci, who helped engineer mill rebirths in Millinocket, East Millinocket and Old Town, Lincoln’s revitalization “was the sweetest.”
“This is certainly in the top three, if not number one for me, because when it came out of bankruptcy court, nobody said we could do it,” Baldacci said after the ceremony. “When we’re finished with Old Town, that will be a state-of-the-art facility, and that’s great, but this is the sweetest.”
Chris Jackson, campaign manager for Republican gubernatorial candidate Chandler Woodcock, didn’t seem to mind Baldacci taking a bow for Lincoln’s success.
“The goal of the Woodcock administration,” he said, “would be to get to where we have enough significant investment in Maine so that not every investment is front-page news.”
Baldacci’s administration keyed the rebirth by helping keep the factory heated over its first winter, preventing creditors from seizing its assets and luring Keith Van Scotter and John Wissman to the site after Eastern’s shutdown on Jan. 16, 2004.
“They looked into the mill and saw not darkness, but opportunity,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said.
The two investors completed their $23.7 million purchase of the plant in May 2004. They announced in August 2005 a $35 million investment by California’s PCG Capital Partners for the new machine. Construction took a year.
“To bring manufacturing jobs back to America is great,” Wissman said after his partner estimated the days it took to revitalize the site. “We have one of the most competitive mills in North America.”
Other speakers dropped an alphabet soup of acronyms representing state and federal programs, tax breaks and loans, including TIF, Pine Tree Zone, Governor’s Training Initiative and Small Business Administration, that helped propel the deals.
“We are the envy of every other municipality in the state. … Everybody came together and made this work,” Town Manager Glenn Aho said.
The machine has created new jobs and revenue statewide. State Rep. Everett McLeod, R-Lee, said his employer, welding contractor Davis Brothers Inc. of Chester, has received 37 purchase orders since the machine started.
Hartt Transportation Systems Inc. of Bangor, which has about 350 employees, hired 35 more drivers to handle its LP&T workload. EJ Carrier Co. of Jackman, a logging company, hired 20 more workers, bringing its total work force to 200, to supply LP&T with wood fiber.
Economists figure that six jobs are created by every new job added to manufacturing efforts such as the tissue machine, state Economic Development Commissioner Jack Cashman said. If that’s true, as many as 240 jobs could have been created by LP&T.
Job creation won’t end there, Wissman said. The company plans to invest $13 million into the plant in 2007, including buying a new electricity turbine. Five more new full-time jobs will be created over the new year.