New coop files intent to purchase large central Wisconsin mill

WEDC has been supportive of the effort, including helping get grant funding

The Timber Professionals Cooperative, which was formed after the closing of the huge Verso pulp and paper mill operation in June, has filed a letter of intent with Verso to purchase the company’s Wisconsin Rapids mill.

The letter of intent was announced at a Feb. 3 virtual meeting of the “Rapids Together Task Force.” Details of the letter of intent were not made public based on a non-disclosure agreement in place with Verso.

Henry Schienebeck, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Timber Processors Association and one of the founders of the cooperative, said that discussions with Verso have picked up recently with support from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and Representative Scott Krug (R-Nekoosa).

Schienebeck said that the cooperative model, in which ownership is held by participants in the forest products markets and others in the community, allows for “a focus on long term success”.

He said WEDC has been “fantastic to work with” in helping GLTPA and others in the industry begin to establish the cooperative.

A pending application to WEDC for a feasibility study on ways of stabilizing the pulp and paper industry in Wisconsin was also discussed in the task force meeting. The feasibility study would have broader focus than the future of the Wisconsin Rapids plant, but would include analysis of a future path for the Verso mill, according to Schienebeck. WEDC is also working with the coop to secure grants, according to Missy Hughes, CEO of WEDC.

One model of a successful coop has been Boisaco, which operates mills and other forest products businesses in Sacre-Coeur, Quebec. The cooperative model has operated successfully there for more than 35 years, a dramatic improvement over an earlier boom and bust history that is detailed in a 2017 study of cooperatives from the College of the Atlantic.

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