Buyers for Snowflake paper mill available, but no word from owner

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- It's one of the biggest employers in the town of Snowflake, but the paper mill is about to close down. 

Representatives from the Arizona Commerce Authority, governor’s office, Navajo County and Snowflake gathered in Phoenix Wednesday.  Snowflake City Manager Paul Watson said they have found other companies interested in the Catalyst-owned paper mill, but now they are focused on getting the company to talk while employees count the days to closure.

For the Perkins family, nothing really beats living in a small town.

“The view is beautiful and I really like that,” said Roy Perkins as he and his family stood behind his house.

The view is filled with pastures and corn fields hemmed by the forests of the White Mountains.  Perkins built this home and raised his family while working at the Snowflake Paper Mill for 47 years.

“The mill come in '61,” Perkins said.  “I graduated in '63 and I started the month after I got out of school.”

Two of his sons, Darren and Dusty, came back to work at the mill because they liked living in a smaller community close to family.  Then last month the owner, Catalyst Paper Corporation announced it will close at the end of September.

“I have four kids and no way to provide for them,” Dusty Perkins said.  “There's a lot of jobs out there that just don't pay as good.”

“We have five kids still at home,” Darren Perkins said.  “My wife has never had to work outside of the home and it will probably cause her to go back to work.”

“I don't think a lot of people realize the trickle effect this has in this community,” said Dusty’s wife, Rachel.  “We're worried about everybody.”

The announcement sent shockwaves through the towns of Snowflake and Taylor, but also the region.

Nedy Barrera and Jill Shelley cut hair and do nails at Jill's Chic Retreat.

Shelley worries about losing paying customers, but also losing members of her community.
“I wish it was a lie,” Shelley said. “A bad rumor at a salon would be great.  We lose a lot of good friends when people have to move to find other places to work.”

City and county leaders have been worrying about little else since the announcement.  They are trying to come up with job opportunities for the displaced workers.  Even better would be another company to take over.

“To me it looks like it would be the equivalent of Intel, US Airways and Boeing all simultaneously announced they were closing their offices in the Phoenix area within 60 days,” said Navajo County Supervisor Dave Tenney.

Tenney bases that on the numbers. The mill employs 308 people and the average salary plus benefits is about $80,000. Those above-average wages equal an economic impact of around $32 million for other businesses, local governments and schools.

“Our unified school district here,” said Snowflake Mayor Kelly Willis.  “The implications of that alone is around $350,000.”

Willis, Watson and the supervisors of Navajo county are calling anyone and everyone.  They say there are one to three companies interested in buying the mill, but Catalyst would have to be willing to deal.

Meanwhile, Darren Perkins knows he can't feed his children on hopes and maybes.

“Do whatever we can to stay here,” Perkins said.  “But if it takes moving out of the community we may have to do that.”

Catalyst is reorganizing in bankruptcy right now and that is supposed to finalize Sept. 14.  That might also be the reason the company isn't talking to potential buyers. 

Paul Watson thinks the odds of finding a solution before the closing date are slim.