Manager: McKinley struggling to fill positions

Internship, temporary posts available

PORT ANGELES — McKinley Paper Company has not been immune from the slowdown in the economy that has eroded consumer demand for paper, but Fletcher Austin, general manager of the company’s mill in Port Angeles, said the facility was continuing to operate while at the same time struggling to maintain its workforce.

“With the market the way it is, it has become quite difficult, and with the recession that’s happening, it is affecting cardboard boxes and bags and everything else,” Austin told the Port Angeles Noon Rotary at its Wednesday meeting.

“This group that we have here at the mill is working really hard. We’re watching our costs and we’re just trying to make a go of it a little bit at a time.”

The Port Angeles mill currently has 174 employees — down from 200 in September 2022.

“It’s really difficult to get people to come to work,” Austin said. “We have pulpers, but there’s no one to staff them.”

Austin arrived at McKinley in June 2021 as its operations manager and become general manager in September 2022. He and his family moved to Port Angeles from Lewiston, Idaho, where he was a superintendent at Clearwater Paper Corporation.

Fletcher, who has 25 years of experience in the timber industry, said he appreciated the history of the Port Angeles facility which began as the Washington Pulp and Paper Co. in 1922.

“I understand how long this mill has been here and it’s been a part of the community,” Austin said.

McKinley purchased the mill in 2017 from Nippon Paper Industries and then shut it down for almost three years before running paper again in February 2020.

“They knew there was a lot of investment that needed to be made to turn it over to what they wanted to do,” Austin said.

McKinley is part of Bio Pappel, one of the largest paper manufacturers in Mexico and Latin America. The Port Angeles facility is one of three McKinley mills in the United States; the others are located in New Mexico and Wisconsin. McKinley also operates eight packaging plants and five recycling centers across the country.

Austin said that the mill had been participating in job fairs, and reaching out to the high school and Peninsula College to attract applicants.

“The market is tough for our employees and then on top of that, as we try to bring in other administration people, the housing market is incredibly tight,” Austin said.

Even if McKinley matches the wages of a person relocating to Port Angeles from another part of the United States, such as the South, Austin said they were not going to have the same standard of living because costs are higher here.

“Going forward, I think we should probably start vocational training and talk about the opportunities that are out there for kids,” he said, so that they could learn the skills to become pipe fitters, welders, electricians, process control engineers and other roles.

Internship

To introduce young people to the paper industry and help build its workforce, McKinley has established two introductory level pathways to careers in the field.

Its environmental internship is a full-time, paid and benefited position for students working toward a four-year degree in the environmental sciences. Full-time temporary summer positions at the mill are available for those at least 18 years old and don’t require a college degree or high school diploma.

“It’s going to be mostly cleanup and painting, but they’ll get some exposure to what’s going on with the mill,” Austin said.

Information about the internship can be found here tinyurl.com/3wv5se8n

Information about the temporary summer positions can be found here tinyurl.com/33x6k2ah

Among the things Austin said McKinley is most proud, were its efforts to be a sustainable and environmentally-friendly company by reducing its use of chemicals, energy use and water.

“We are a one hundred percent recycled mill,” Austin said. “We make paper with very little chemical addition. We use some wax AKD [alkyl ketene dimer] and then some polymers to help strengthen it, but there’s no digesting chemicals. Nothing like that.”

The mill, he said, had reduced its water consumption by four million gallons a day and reduced its incoming electrical power from 40 megawatts to 18.

“It’s very important to us to be good neighbors,” Austin said. “We want to be responsible industrial partners.”

________

Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at Paula.Hunt@soundpublishing.com

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