‘Business as usual’ at IP’s Natchez mill

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 14, 2000

&uot;Business as usual&uot; is the way most International Paper officials are describing the atmosphere at the Natchez mill three months after IP announced it was putting the mill up for sale.

&uot;We do expect to be bought, and we’re very excited about the prospects,&uot; said IP spokeswoman Lillie DeShields.

DeShields could not say what companies have expressed interest in buying the mill, which is part of IP’s chemical cellulose business.

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&uot;Those companies have requested discretion so that other companies don’t find out who they are,&uot; she said.

The 50-year-old Natchez mill, which employs about 750 people, makes dissolving pulp, which winds up in such products as photo film, rayon, cellophane, ethers and acetate yarns.

The sale of the mill could take months to complete, said DeShields, who likened the process to an individual’s selling his house. That sale might take a few months, so the sale of an industry like the mill would take much longer.

In the meantime, &uot;it’s business as usual,&uot; said human resources manager Luther Dangerfield.

Business as usual this week has included the plant’s receiving an award from the Secretary of Labor’s office for its diversity in staffing as well as continued plans for a leadership development program called &uot;Project Navigation.&uot;

That program began about a year ago, and DeShields said officials hope it will boose productivity — one of the goals of the company even before IP announced the mill was up for sale.

Dangerfield said the development program will give employees lessons in interpersonal skills and leadership.

Dangerfield said he does not think the mill will use any kind of training for employees to prepare them for a transition if the mill is sold.

&uot;That’s not something we typically do,&uot; he said. &uot;You can’t train people to accept a sale.&uot;

Terry Arnold, president of one of IP’s unions, said his members are concentrating on their jobs with an eye toward keeping their finances in order in case anything happens with the mill.

&uot;It’s pretty much business as usual with the unions,&uot; said Arnold, president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1650, which has 68 members. &uot;We are encouraging our people to pay attention to their finances and have everything in order, such as their 401(k)s. We’re telling them to get updates on their retirement statements just so they’ll have it.&uot;

Arnold said the union is trying to keep up with information about any possible sale of the mill.

&uot;The company is keeping us up to date as much as they can, but in a situation like this a company doesn’t put out much information until late in the game,&uot; he said. &uot;The union presidents stay in communication with each other constantly, and usually when we meet with company officials it’s as a group.

&uot;The latest that we’ve heard is that companies are still interested in buying the mill,&uot; Arnold said. &uot;I’ve heard as few as three and as many as seven companies are interested. In the next couple of months, they (IP officials) should start meeting with those companies.&uot;