PORT ANGELES — McKinley Paper Co. officials want to increase the mill’s workforce to 200 by about Labor Day, hoping to hire about 20 more employees in a move that would nearly double the number of employees compared to when McKinley reopened the plant in February 2020.
McKinley Human Resources Manager Pete Johnson issued the call for workers Wednesday at the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce’s first in-person luncheon since COVID-19 gathering restrictions were imposed in March 2020.
McKinley is a privately held company owned by the Mexican paper products giant Bio Pappel, the largest manufacturer of paper and paper products in Mexico and Latin America, which operates a similar plant in New Mexico.
Bio Pappel bought the 101-year-old plant from Nippon Industries USA in April 2017, converting it from a failing newsprint and telephone-book-paper production line to containerboard and package-grade brown paper produced with recycled paper and cardboard.
Twenty-four Nippon employees were onsite in April 2017, Johnson said.
“The goal of Nippon was to be the last man standing in that market,” he said in a slide presentation.
“McKinley rode to the rescue, bought the facility and began the process of converting it to brown paper — think Amazon boxes.
McKinley opened in February 2020 with 120 employees.
“Right now, we have 180-plus employees,” he said to clapping from 40 luncheon attendees.
“I would not be surprised if we don’t hit 200 by Labor Day.
“It all depends on where the paper market is going. Right now it’s exceptionally good.
“We still have challenges in front of us, and if you know of anyone who needs a job who wants to be a long-term employee, please have them come by and fill out an application.”
Work schedules consist of two day shifts each of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., two night-shifts of 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and four days off.
“We’ve seen tremendous progress, and we won’t rest until we’ve reached the goals established by our corporate parents,” he said.
The company announced in September 2018 plans to produce 250,000 tons of containerboard at the mill on Ediz Hook, doubling its overall domestic capacity and bringing its annual capacity to 2 million tons in Mexico and the U.S.
Johnson referred all media inquiries to McKinley’s New Mexico offices.
McKinley purchased the plant from Japanese-owned Nippon for $20.6 million, including the $91 million biomass cogeneration plant that Nippon completed in 2013 after initially estimating it would cost $71 million.
Nippon and boiler manufacturer FSE Energy reached an undisclosed settlement over the cogeneration facility’s cracked biomass boiler.
The cogeneration plant was expected to produce 9.5 megawatts of electricity.
Johnson said hog fuel, or unprocessed wood-waste debris, powers the cogeneration plant, which produces steam used in the mill, where two paper machines are in operation.
His presentation was preceded by a Bio Pappel promotional film about the company’s overall operations that hearkened back to McKinley’s 2017 purchase and touted its attention to environmental stewardship.
“We recently acquired another major plant in he U.S., this one in the state of Washington,” the film moderator said, to one listener in audience cheering, “where we will replicate our sustainable business model to make paper without cutting any trees down, cogenerate green energy with the steam from our operations, recycle the water we use in our industrial processes and raise our competitive [place] in the U.S. market.”
According to Johnson, McKinley has a good relationship with the union representing mill workers, the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Local 155.
Nippon implemented a contract with 130 workers without the union’s approval.
“I still hear about the 2013 strike,” Johnson said.
“It was a tough period for them, and their market was dying, and we are not that company,” he said
“We have different challenges and wanted to create a new culture.”
Chamber Executive Director Marc Abshire began the meeting with a moment of silence to recognize Dan Wilder Sr., 72, the founder of Wilder Auto Center, who died July 9 of complications from surgery.
“He was a pillar of our community, and just a great man,” Abshire said, recalling Wilder as a strong supporter of the chamber, area businesses and nonprofits who backed “a lot of efforts that we’ve tried to build as a community.”
Among the announcements at the luncheon was one of an Aug. 8 Pebble Beach fundraising event for the Field Arts & Events Hall. Wilder was a long-serving board member.
Other activities that were announced include a July 31 Child Care Alliance child care job fair at the Vern Burton Community Center, Nor’Wester Rotary’s and Koenig Subaru’s free Jammin’ in the Park on Sept. 4, Peninsula Behavioral Health’s annual gala Oct. 1 at 7 Cedars, the ongoing Port Angeles Farmers Market, and Lefties baseball games at Civic Field, which cost $6 per ticket.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].
Terry Ward, publisher of the Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum, serves on the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce board of directors.