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Concern in the Cove: Roaring Spring copes with Appvion’s closure

An aerial view shows the Appvion paper mill, which sits at the edge of the Borough of Roaring Spring. Courtesy photo

ROARING SPRING — Roaring Spring may never be the same following an announcement by Appvion Inc. on Monday that it would close the Spring Mill in late March or early April leaving about 300 workers without jobs.

“To us, the paper industry is why Roaring Spring is here,” said Daniel Hoover, co-chairman and CEO of Roaring Spring Blank Book Co. “That is why our company is here and why we are here.”

Hoover is a fifth generation descendant of Daniel Bare, who along with partners John Elby and John Morrison, founded the mill in 1866.

“What motivated him as an entrepreneur to start the business was to provide jobs and build a community which grows up around the business,” Hoover said. “I have been in manufacturing my whole life. A company like the paper mill created opportunities for other companies to buy and sell their services.”

Unfortunate trend

The closing of the paper mill has been part of a trend for local manufacturing.

In January 2012, Blair County’s manufacturing employment totaled 7,400.

Just prior to the pandemic, it totaled 7,100, said President/CEO Stephen McKnight of Altoona Blair County Development Corp.

In the last 10 months, not including Appvion, 600 jobs have been lost — “double the total net loss in the previous eight years combined,” McKnight said.

“Despite the rising stock market and optimism for a post-pandemic recovery, we remain in an economic crisis as a result of the health mandates,” McKnight said.

Since around 2000, Blair County’s lost businesses include North American Communications, Harbison Walker Refractories, General Cable, SKF, F.L. Smithe, Penn Jacobson, CCOR Electronics, Butterick and now Appvion, said President/CEO Joe Hurd of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce.

“In a fragile economy, the Appvion closing hurts even worse,” Hurd said.

General Cable announced plans in December 2014 to reduce employment at the Altoona plant, which employed about 210 at the time. It closed in 2017.

Harbison Walker Refractories closed the Sproul plant in March 2019, affecting 88 employees.

In July 2019, North American Communications closed leaving about 200 people without a job.

Also in July 2019, WATCO closed its Hollidaysburg tank car facility leaving 72 people without work.

In September 2019, Norfolk Southern laid off 100 at the Juniata Locomotive Shop, and in October 2019, Gardner Denver laid off 45 machinists and office staff.

Ripple effect

The impact of the Appvion closing will be huge, as mill employees held well-paying jobs.

“Employees at the mill were making between $20 and $30 an hour,” said Mitchell Becker, president of United Steelworkers of America Local 10-00422. “What concerns me growing up in the community (is) the mill has always been a staple. What worries me is what will happen to the community. That is a huge loss for the community and the tax base. There will be additional jobs lost because of this.”

Hoover called the effect “huge.”

“You have almost 300 employees who held down some of the highest-paying manufacturing jobs in the county and the region,” he said. “The taxes that group was paying into all of our public entities will be affected by it.

“All local and regional suppliers that supplied goods and services to the mill will be affected. There is a manufacturing benchmark that says for every one job there are one to two jobs in other areas supported by the company. That means there are another 300 jobs at risk in our region which provide goods and services to Appvion.”

Roaring Spring True Value, formerly known as the Roaring Spring Department Store, was also founded by Bare, when he opened a retail store in 1863.

Co-owner Doug Mingle, whose family has been a part of the business since 1915, agreed the closing will have an impact.

“It will have an impact,” Mingle said. “I am not sure how deep it goes. It will affect a lot of households and businesses. It provided stable employment for generations and fueled the growth of many other businesses.

“This town grew up around the paper mill. The community is more diverse than it used to be. Years ago, the mill was the centerpiece of town from an employment standpoint. It will impact the businesses and nonprofits that they have helped over the years. It will have an impact. It doesn’t seem it will be as deep of an impact if it had happened a generation ago.”

Borough tax base

The closing is huge for many reasons, said Roaring Spring Borough Council President Rodney Green.

“There have been generations of families who have worked at the mill,” Green said. “It is important on tax revenues for the borough, school district and township, especially the borough. We have some infrastructure that is integrated with the mill. We will need to maintain it and work with the company. That presents some challenges for us.

“Things underground are things people don’t always think about. We have partnered with the mill for over 150 years in one way or another. We have a local services tax, which helps fund the fire company and police. That will be impacted the most. That assessment is a significant contribution. Every mill employee was assessed the LST tax.”

The Spring Cove School District will feel it, too.

“About 100 employees are school district residents,” Spring Cove School District Superintendent Betsy Baker said. “It is too soon to tell how big the impact may be. It could impact our earned income taxes.”

Eagle perspective

Scott Igoe, president of American Eagle Paper Mills in Tyrone, called the closing a “sad event.”

“Appvion has provided excellent family-sustaining jobs for generations,” Igoe said. “I’ve always understood their lines of paper to be profitable, but of course, the pandemic dramatically lowered demand, and it hit their lines disproportionately hard.”

Igoe said he is not concerned that a similar fate may hit his mill.

“Any negative impact to our industry certainly is concerning. That said, American Eagle is well-positioned as the only U.S. manufacturer of 100% recycled paper.”

Igoe said he hopes American Eagle, which employs about 200, can add some workers from Appvion.

“Our employees have done an amazing job developing new product lines and shifting work schedules to meet our customers’ needs,” he said. “It’s a tough industry, but our capital investments, employee flexibility, and focus on 100% recycled products as a differentiator, with a strong focus on product development, have provided steady improvement for us over the past four years. We’re optimistic about our future, and hope we can add many highly skilled employees from Appvion to further enhance our capabilities.”

While American Eagle produces 100% recycled paper, Appvion produces carbonless paper.

“The bulk of Appvion’s products were different from ours, but there is a potential fit for some of their colored and specialty papers. These were relatively small portions of Appvion’s business, but would be tremendous additions to American Eagle’s,” Igoe said. “We are looking to add another 30-40 employees as our sales continue to grow and are excited to speak with the Appvion employees. Applicants can apply at www.aepaper.com.”

Job fair

Blair Companies and American Eagle will be hosting a job fair from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Hampton Inn in Altoona.

The chamber and ABCD Corp. are providing help for the Appvion employees.

“The best course of action is to move forward and do whatever can be done to help the people impacted by the closing,” Hurd said. “The chamber is working with CareerLink and ABCD to ascertain where job opportunities might already exist. There is never a good time to lose an employer that leaves major job losses, especially an employer with the history of the mill. The emotional fallout for the people in the Cove is bound to take time to recover from.”

“We are seeing big interest in hiring those who have been displaced. There remains a very high demand for skilled manufacturing workers,”

McKnight said.

ABCD Corp. is taking part in a statewide initiative to attract global manufacturers back to the state and Blair County.

“In the last few weeks, interest in our area from outside investors has grown,” McKnight said. “Discussions on reshoring manufacturing operations from Europe and Asia and establishing concurrent operations here in the United States are very real. They represent a possible upside going away from the global pandemic experience.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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