COMBINED LOCKS, Wisconsin (From news reports) -- Industrial Assets Corp., a used machine dealer and liquidator based in Los Angeles, will be the new owner of the Appleton Coated paper mill as of Friday.
The $20 million sale, plus a $1.5 million backstop fund, was approved by Outagamie County Judge Gregory Gill in a hearing on Thursday morning.
It included $2.25 million to cover employee health insurance through October and wages for about 100 employees to be recalled for a few weeks to keep the mill at "hot idle" status. That number will then be reduced to 30 employees.
The new modified agreement includes the stipulation that Industrial Assets will market the mill for 90 days to see if a new buyer can be found who will restart and operate the mill as a going concern.
It ended a tense waiting period for workers. Several dozen sat silently on Thursday in the back two rows of the courtroom.
The mood was funereal.
"It's been like a death in the family," said employee Jim Bird.
Workers learned that a previous plan to restart the mill for 45 days with a partial recalled staff of 195 workers had been scrapped.
According to the modified purchase agreement, Industrial Assets met with Appleton Coated management and "determined that the management's projections for profitable short-term operations were not achievable."
Some are holding out hope that the mill can be sold again, come back to life and rehire at least some of the 620 employees.
"The good news is that we have an opportunity to find someone to operate the plant. It's not going to be easy, but we still have a second chance," said Outagamie County executive Tom Nelson.
He praised the parties, including the union and judge, in their efforts to keep that option on the table.
In Thursday's hearing, the judge admitted that the drawn-out approval of the sale, which had been initially accepted in a receiver's auction Sept. 19, was unorthodox.
"The willingness of all the parties to engage in these discussions to look at a solution that benefits all is greatly appreciated," said Gill. "We're presenting an opportunity that gives the best opportunity to the hardworking individuals of Appleton Coated. To hopefully secure long-term employment. It gives opportunities to satisfy the obligations of the creditors."
Workers, meanwhile, expressed feelings of pride and a glimmer of hope.
"It's a hell of a mill," said employee Ferko Goldinger. "They've invested half a billion dollars in improvements since 1995. As mills go, it's a real gem."
"It's pretty tough, but I still have a little bit of hope," said Ramiro Blandon, an employee for 25 years.
Others felt a sense of closure and finality.
"There are people who are heartbroken. For some, this is the only company they've ever worked for," said employee Tim Somers. "I want to go back. It's something I know and am good at. But I don't think I'll be recalled. I think the end is here."
"The mill is not going to restart," said Michael Young, a 34-year employee who was 10 months from retirement. "I'm looking for another job. I'm going on with my life."
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