Necktie a sure sign that rumor mill continues

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 4, 2000

Donnie Verucchi couldn’t help but let out a chuckle at something he heard recently at International Paper’s Natchez mill.

Anyone who knows Verucchi realizes the Maintenance Resource worker’s always laughing and enjoying life, but this time the source of his humor had much broader implications than simply the latest joke or a funny story.

&uot;I just had a salesman come in,&uot; Verucchi said, which isn’t unusual.

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But this salesman was wearing a tie. That fact, combined with IP’s ongoing effort to sell the 50 year-old dissolving pulp mill, meant the rumors began to fly.

&uot;Everybody thought he was a new buyer,&uot; Verucchi said with a laugh.

&uot;You see some strangers in the mill, everybody thinks ‘That must be a potential buyer,’&uot; he said.

A person in a suit and tie is a dead giveaway.

&uot;I tell you if a foreigner comes into the mill, boy it’s like everybody says ‘that’s the new owners,’&uot; Verucchi said.

In July, IP announced its intention to sell the Natchez mill, which employs about 750 people and is the only mill of its type that IP owns, as part of the global company’s plan to divest about $3 billion in assets.

And for the last few months rumors and speculation have flown through the mill and all across the county.

Verucchi said the mill has &uot;always been a big place for rumors anyway … it’s just human nature.&uot;

&uot;When we first announced it, everybody was really down,&uot; he said.

And the rumors got worse as IP announced the closure of other mills across the country.

But lately, the mood is much more reserved, he said.

&uot;It’s a heck of a lot better to be on the block to be sold than to be the block to be closed,&uot; Verucchi said. &uot;It’s kind of anxious anticipation.&uot;

Spirits have picked up, he said, evidenced by the mill’s recent success in its annual United Way campaign.

&uot;We had a great campaign,&uot; Verucchi said.

Despite the uncertain future the mill exceeded its goal.

&uot;Giving people are giving people, but under some circumstances that can change,&uot; Verucchi said. &uot;But we did great.&uot;

&uot;Lots of folks have said they’re looking forward to the change,&uot; he said. &uot;Everybody’s wanting to know who and when.&uot;

As the upper level sales work continues mill personnel have been told to expect a new owner in the next few months.

Likely potential buyers include a South African company called Sappi and Celanese, an international company – both competitors of the mill.

As Christmas nears, Verucchi said mill workers have settled in and are focusing on the positive.

&uot;Even the talk about ‘ole what’s his name got a job offer with …’ has died off,&uot; he said.

&uot;Everybody out there is concerned about the mill prospering and making money.&uot;

&uot;Everybody realizes the need for it, hell it’s our bread and butter,&uot; Verucchi said.

For now, the rumors continue and strangers wearing suits and ties may get strange, expectant glances, but workers are looking for good things to come.

&uot;Everybody’s eager for a new buyer to come in and take us under their wing,&uot; Verucchi said. &uot;I think by March we might have a new sign out front.&uot;

Kevin Cooper is managing editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 445-3541 or by e-mail at