International Paper celebrates

Published 10:53 pm Friday, August 17, 2012

Franklin International Paper mill Manager Allison Magness prepares to cut a ribbon made of fluff pulp while IP senior vice presidents Tommy Joseph, left, and Tim Nicholls look on Friday. The ceremony officially marked the $90 million reopening of the mill.

Governor attends ribbon cutting for fluff pulp mill

By Dale Liesch

The Tidewater News

FRANKLIN — Friday was a good day for Stanley Sykes.

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As International Paper officials, employees and state leaders, including Gov. Bob McDonnell, cut a fluff pulp ribbon signaling the $90 million repurposing of Franklin’s paper mill, Sykes was happy to return to work.

“It means a lot of joy, happiness and jobs for the community,” the 31-year IP employee said.

Sykes, who works on the paper machine, was one of 1,100 who lost their jobs when the mill shut down in June 2010. He remained unemployed for 18 months before being rehired. Sykes is among 213 at the mill making fluff pulp, which is used in diapers and other absorbent products.

“I was happy to have a new job to support my family,” the 52-year-old Hunterdale resident said.

McDonnell, who spoke to more than 100, said one of the toughest days he had in office was when he learned the mill was closing. He praised the work of company and community leaders, who “found a way to put these resources back on line.”

“We’re delighted to have helped out a little bit,” he said, referring to $350,000 given to the mill from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund. “This is a bright day, but the fluff pulp market is brighter.”

IP Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Faraci said demand for office paper “nearly vanished” three years ago when the decision was made to shut the mill. The area’s skilled workforce and mill’s proximity to the Port of Virginia and natural resources is why IP chose to repurpose the mill.

“We knew this mill and this town were capable of a comeback,” Faraci said.

All of the fluff pulp made at the mill will be exported, which would help grow the state port, McDonnell said.

IP spokeswoman Julie Brennan said the material will go to Asia and Latin America.

International demand for fluff pulp has grown by about 4 percent a year, said IP Senior Vice President Tim Nicholls.

“I think the way the mill has started up and the quality of the product is a testament to the teamwork here, but also to International Paper’s resources around the world,” Nicholls said.

Ed Turner Jr., of Franklin, an employee in the mill’s wood yard, feels very blessed and humbled to return to the mill, where he worked for 30 years.

“It means a whole lot,” the 54-year-old said. “It’s good for the economy and for future generations.”