Consultant: Efforts continue to form ESOP at mill

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 9, 2003

NATCHEZ &045;&045; True to form, those involved with a plan for an employee buyout of the old International Paper mill aren’t talking about its progress &045;&045; but they will say the project isn’t over yet.

&uot;We should know something definite about the situation in about a week,&uot; said Bob Taylor, a former manager of the Natchez mill who has been working with both union representatives and local officials on the employee stock option plan.

ESOP plans have been in the works for several months now, while the IP plant itself closed at the end of July.

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Natchez Fiber Inc. &045;&045; the company formed to back the ESOP &045;&045; are negotiating with International Paper to get the assets of the plant.

A week after IP closed the mill, Taylor and other ESOP organizers met with former employees in Natchez, spelling out the steps Natchez Fiber would have to take to get control of the mill facility.

In addition to getting control of the assets, the ESOP would have to 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.

Taylor stressed after that August meeting the project was not a done deal. ESOP supporters have enlisted help from Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s office, the Natchez-Adams Chamber of Commerce and the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority.

IP’s Natchez mill was the company’s only producer of chemical cellulose, which had seen soft market conditions in recent years as products such as cigarette filters were less in demand.

About 640 people lost their jobs when IP closed. However, some found employment at IP plants in or at similar mills.