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December 11. 2012 9:29PM

Governor gets warm welcome at Gorham Paper and Tissue


Wiilis Blevins explains what kind of paper is coming off one of the older machines at the Gorham mill, with Gov. Lynch getting a feel for the product. (SARA YOUNG-KNOX/Union Leader correspondent)

GORHAM - Rolls of paper were spinning off the machines at the Gorham Paper and Tissue mill on Tuesday, as Gov. John Lynch visited the factory for what was likely his last time as governor.

It was his first time seeing the new tissue machine in action. In July, the governor toured the mill, including the new addition that houses the machine, which at the time was incomplete. The tissue machine, all its parts and housing, was a $35 million project.

It's a key investment in the North Country's only paper mill, one which could keep the mill competitive.

"Without the tissue machine we would not be here," Willis Blevins, general manager of the plant, told Lynch. The mill only makes paper when there are orders to fill, which means that when the machines are humming - there are several other machines in the older section of the plant - payroll is being met.

The mill currently has 210 employees.

The goal for the new machine's output is 105 short tons a day. The day before, Blevins said, they made 93 tons with the new machine.

"We're still in the startup stage," he said.

The new tissue machine can make 6,000 feet of paper product a minute. The next-fastest machine is the towel machine, which makes 2,000 feet a minute.

Lynch was greeted warmly as he toured the mill. He spent time one-on-one with employees, including Andy Lacasse, who was moving the 1.5-ton rolls of paper from the new machine.

"He helped us out a lot up here," Lacasse said afterward. "If it wasn't for him and Willis we wouldn't be here."

Lacasse was called back to work at the mill in August 2011, several months after Patriarch Partners bought the facility. He said he has worked at the mill for 40 years.

Lynch acknowledged the challenges over the years in the region. "I think the North Country is on an upward swing," adding, "I do think there is optimism in the North Country."

The mill was closed by Fraser Papers in October 2010, which then sold the mill to Counsel R.B .Capital as part of its bankruptcy reorganization. The mill complex was then bought by Patriarch Partners. It reopened in spring 2011. It is a Lynn Tilton company.

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Sara Young-Knox may be reached at syoungknox@newstote.com.



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