Bales of success

TYRONE – Nearly two years ago, the first roll of paper rolled out of American Eagle Paper Mills in Tyrone.

Today the mill, reopened in 2003 with about 175 employees by a group of former mill managers and investors known as Team Ten LLC, is continuing to grow and prosper.

MeadWestvaco had shuttered the Tyrone mill in October 2001 and the facility was purchased by Team Ten in September 2003. The first roll of recycled paper was produced Nov. 14.

Pat Stoner, who was mayor at the time, remembers both the closing and reopening of the paper mill.

“The mill closing was a catastrophic event,” Stoner said. “Men and women were suddenly out of a job. They were shrouded in insecurity of how to provide for their families. When the mill reopened, it was like a large black cloud had been lifted from our community. The reopening of the mill was a blessing for our community. It gave us a sense of security again to our people, the black cloud lifted and the sun was shining, that was the way it felt.”

Team Ten, actually comprised of 12 people, was led by John Ferner, who had worked at the mill for 28 years when it was shut down.

“We knew when it shut down it was a good viable operation,” he said.

“We had been successful and could continue to keep it successful. We put together a group of very experienced people who had been there before, who could get it up and running,” said Ferner, who retired as president of Team Ten in December.

“We knew the potential of the mill. We had confidence we could start it back up and create a lot of family-sustaining jobs for people in the area,” said Team Ten secretary/treasurer Clark Adelman, who had worked at the mill for 18 years before it was closed.

The 175 employees were hired quickly.

“We hired them within two months. We had to hire them, put in a computer system, train them and get all of the equipment up and running,” Adelman said.

It took a team effort to purchase the mill and get it up and running.

Altoona-Blair County Development Corp. played a key role.

“What we did was serve as the coordinator/catalyst and helped to secure the funding,” said Marty Marasco, ABCD Corp. president and CEO.

“The real heroes are the former management and investors who make up Team Ten. We were fortunate we had a very successful project. We are very proud of what was accomplished there. We are very appreciative of Team Ten for that commitment.”

Marasco credited many, including Gov. Ed Rendell, the Governors Action Team, Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Yablonski, former state Senator Robert C. Jubelirer and state Representatives Jerry Stern and Mike Fleck for making the project a reality.

“We also had outstanding cooperation from Tyrone Borough when we put this together. It was a coordinated effort and has been a real success story,” Marasco said. “This was a prime example of a real public-private partnership.”

Adelman praised Marasco for his efforts.

“Marty was the force behind this. Marty is the gem of this community. People are not aware how important he was in bringing these jobs to the community,” Adelman said.

Since its reopening, the mill has focused on producing recycled paper.

“We are an absolutely pure recycled paper mill. Bales come in as waste paper from printing companies and envelope companies and we turn them into paper again. We buy waste paper and turn it into sellable paper again,” said president and CEO Michael Grimm, who took over upon Ferner’s retirement.

American Eagle Paper Mills turns out about 90,000 tons of paper a year.

The mill produces rolls of paper which are sold to printing companies and envelope manufacturers. Large sheets of paper also are sold to printing companies. The biggest growing segment of the business is copy and office paper, what is called “cut size paper.”

Local customers include Cenveo, Acco, North American Communications, Roaring Spring Blank Book, UPMC Altoona, Tyrone Hospital and Penn State University, Grimm said.

“The state of Pennsylvania buys copy paper from us; they want recycled paper. We also sell some to the states of New York and Maryland. Governments want recycled paper; that is a niche market for us,” Adelman said.

Today the mill employs about 260 people and that number is expected to grow.

“We are growing because of our sheeting operation,” Grimm said. “Over the next 18 months we hope to add a couple of more crews and bring that number up to 275.”

The mill’s workers are responsible for its success.

“The key has been being able to find good employees and have knowledgeable managers to continue to run the facility,” Adelman said. “The ownership, management and the employees have made us successful.”

“One thing about this area is the quality of the workforce. There is a ‘can do’ type of attitude,” Grimm said. “The most important thing is this place is here because of the employees and the hard work that gets done here every single day. We have had success getting the right people who care about the continuity of the operation.”

The reopening of the mill has been beneficial to the local economy.

“We have generated $100 million in wages since we started and the investors put more than $50 million into this place over time.” Grimm said.

The mill is planning the construction of a 48,000-square-foot warehouse, a more than $3 million project.

“We are in the final phases of getting a [request for proposal] put together. The building is designed. We expect to break ground in the first quarter after the frost breaks,” Grimm said.

Grimm is excited about the future of the mill.

“We are positioned to continue our legacy of success. We need to make smart decisions and be more creative than our competitors,” Grimm said. “I am very passionate about taking this place down the road. This is a success story, taking an operation that was shuttered and getting it back into operation and bringing these jobs back to the area.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.