Talks continue on ESOP buyout of IP mill facility

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Negotiations continue between officials of International Paper and a group seeking to form an employee stock option plan to buy the Natchez mill IP closed in late July.

As far as when talks might conclude or the chances of successfully forming an ESOP are concerned, ESOP consultant Bob Taylor would not hazard a guess.

&uot;It’s too early to say that,&uot; Taylor said. However, when there is news either way, he said, ESOP representatives will contact former IP employees, union leaders and community leaders privately first.

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Information could then be disseminated through union leaders or through the newspaper, &uot;but it would probably be both,&uot; said Taylor, who worked at the mill in the 1980s and ’90s. &uot;All I can say at this point, though, is that negotiations are still ongoing.&uot;

At a meeting held in early August, Taylor emphasized that the attempt by employees to purchase the mill facility is &uot;by no means a done deal.&uot;

Natchez Fibers Inc., the company formed to back the ESOP, must first get a letter of intent from International Paper to negotiate a buyout of the mill. Following the August meeting, former IP employees had said Taylor told them he hoped to have a letter of intent in hand by Aug. 15. Other steps needed to purchase the mill would include fine-tuning a business plan and &uot;selling&uot; it to lenders to raise the necessary funds &045;&045; estimated at tens of millions of dollars.

If the deal does go through, probably 340 people would be hired to work at the mill which, at least initially, would only operate one of the facility’s two production lines, Taylor has said.