Industry to close doors next week

Published 12:04 am Thursday, October 25, 2012

NATCHEZ — In an announcement uncomfortably familiar in Natchez, a local industry confirmed Wednesday it would be shutting down operations at its plant near the Natchez-Adams County Port.

Mississippi River Pulp — formerly Mississippi River Corporation — will close down its recycled fiber mill effective Oct. 31. The closure, which company officials said is due to lack of demand, will affect 79 hourly and salaried workers.

An employee who asked not to be named said workers were told Tuesday their employment — including insurance benefits — would end at the end of the month. While the worker said employees knew something was going on, they did not know if the mill was going to be closed or sold.

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The worker said the facility had recently completed a 15-day production run but had been idle for a week, but that the facility management was letting employees get as many hours as they could before the closure.

“It has been very quiet today,” the employee said. “You just try to stay busy.”

MRP purchased MRC in 2010, and in a news release Wednesday, the company said its management and board had been working to maintain and grow the business. MRP bought the former MRC for $8.2 million in late May 2010, just five months after MRC had declared bankruptcy, citing low demand for its products as one of the reasons.

“Notwithstanding their best efforts, demand for the company’s recycled fiber has failed to materialize in a meaningful way,” the release said.

After engaging in a months-long search for a buyer that did not result in what MRP considered to be an adequate proposal, the company decided to close the mill “in order to maximize the value of the company’s assets for all stakeholders,” the news release said.

Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said the economic development agency had been working with the company to market the mill to potential buyers, but one of the major players they had courted recently backed out.

MRP Vice President for Manufacturing Lynn Patt said that the company was still looking for a buyer despite the fact that the mill would be closed.

Russ said Natchez Inc. would continue to work with clients who are reviewing the MRP facility.

“All in all, the land and building itself are in good shape and good order, and so we will definitely be looking to either find a buyer for the current MRP facility and business, or we will remarket that property and facility to potential other customers,” Russ said.

In the short term, Natchez Inc. — along with the rapid response team it has with Copiah-Lincoln Community College and the WIN Job Center — will reach out to employees, Russ said.

“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with those employees,” he said. “They are our first priority, and we will be working with them to make sure they are getting the services they need as well as potentially retraining opportunities into the marketplace if that is needed.”

Beyond the personal and economic ripples in the community, the closure could affect local recycling efforts. MRP was the only local facility that recycled office paper, and in the last year a number of local offices had started dropping off their waste paper at the facility as a part of a program introduced by the Natchez Green Alliance.

Green Alliance coordinator Steve McNerney said he thought the closure was disappointing for local recycling efforts.

“When you look at any community recycling efforts, especially the smaller and less industrial towns you get, the biggest issues is what do you do with the stuff you collect,” McNerney said. “With MRP, at least as far as paper products were concerned, that made things easier.”

But McNerney said he believes that the momentum for a county-wide recycling program is moving forward, and — in light of the plant closure —paper recycling will likely have to be contracted to another location rather than dropped off locally.

“What this means is that whoever is collecting the paper is going to have to store it until they have enough to haul it off,” he said.

MRP is located on a 99.77-acre tract on Majorca Road. The facility opened in 1991.