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Former Appvion plant bought

Group of investors hope paper mill can resume operations

The former Appvion paper mill stands empty in Roaring Spring on July 22, 2021. Roaring Spring borough is holding its own economically despite the spring 2021 closure of the plant, which employed 293 workers at the time. Mirror file photo by Patrick Waksmunski

A group of four companies has purchased the former Appvion paper mill in Roaring Spring in hopes of finding an operator that could restart paper manufacturing.

“We’re optimistic,” said Bill Firestone, president of Capital Recovery Group, one of the firms that have created a new LLC called Roaring Spring Park. “We’ll be marketing it as an opportunity for a turnkey operation.”

One avenue for potential success could be production of linerboard — the paper that is turned into boxes for shipping goods by firms like Amazon, Firestone said in a phone interview.

Linerboard is currently in “great demand,” Firestone said.

CRG, Big Shoulders Capital, Rabin Worldwide and Calbag Metals Co. “all have a history of repositioning idle assets, which has included investing their own funds, to identify and support successful new ownership in other facilities such as aluminum products manufacturing, pulp mills, pharmaceuticals and chemical industries, and in the process they have saved or created thousands of jobs,” stated a news release from the new owners.

If the partners fail to find an operator to restart paper manufacturing, there may be the possibility of manufacturing something else there, according to Tom Nicholson, spokesman for the new owners.

If that proves infeasible, site redevelopment is another option, Nicholson said.

“But the first choice is obviously to get the mill back up (as a paper maker),” Nicholson said.

Stripping the mill and selling the assets is possible if all else fails, Nicholson said.

The new owners will “try to give it adequate time” to return paper making to the mill, according to Firestone — who declined to talk about secondary options.

It may be more time than Appvion gave, he said.

“We’ll test the waters,” he said. “See what kind of interest we have.”

The new owners have already spoken to “a few prospects,” Firestone said.

The new owners have “lots of contacts” in the paper industry, according to Nicholson.

Appvion invested millions of dollars in upgrades to equipment in the plant over the years, Firestone stated in the news release.

“Hopefully, we can do our magic here,” he said in the phone interview.

His firm’s past successes include a paper mill in Old Town, Maine, according to Firestone.

After having been abandoned in 2015, following a succession of short-term investments, the Old Town plant was purchased by a Chinese billionaire and restarted a couple years ago to supply virgin pulp to the new owner’s Nine Dragons paper mills in China, according to a New York Times article dated Jan. 15, 2020.

The restart triggered gratitude in the town — along with skepticism, according to the Times article.

The investors believe the Roaring Spring mill has “long-term potential,” said David Muslin, chairman of Big Shoulders Capital, according to the news release.

“I’d welcome the (Roaring Spring) mill to open back up,” said Mitchell Becker, who was president of the United Steelworkers local at the mill under Appvion. “They were good jobs.”

Appvion at one time looked into the possibility of making linerboard at the plant, but didn’t follow through, according to Becker.

He has no idea whether making that kind of paper could be profitable there, he said.

He’s hoping something will work.

“The asset sitting there idle does nobody any good,” he said. “Getting paper going back out from that mill would be great.”

The news about the Roaring Spring Mill “delighted” Blair County Chamber of Commerce CEO Joe Hurd.

Even the most optimistic local observers had probably lost hope for the mill, Hurd said.

“This news is a very strong breath of fresh air,” he said.

Altoona Blair County Development Corp. has been working with the new owners — as well as elected officials at the state and local levels on reviving the plant — and that will continue, according to CEO Steve McKnight.

“We all recognized this would not happen overnight, (but) it is very encouraging to see new investors taking charge,” he wrote.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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