The Newton Falls Paper Mill was started in 1894 by the Newton family. The tiny hamlet of a couple hundred people, too small to have its own census data, was essentially a one horse town with the mill being the major employer in the area after a nearby iron-ore mill closed in the 70s. When the paper mill closed in 2000, most of the former workers had to drive over 50 miles to find work.
Two of those workers, Andy Leroux (44) and Levi Durham, Jr. (51) both found work at another paper-making plant 44 miles away but when that plant closed a year later they worked some odd jobs as they developed a plan to revitalize “their” paper mill. After seeing part of the roof in the 400,000 sf building collapse due to a heavy snow load and sadly watching the plant fall into further disrepair, the two decided to take things into their own hands, or as Andy told the N Y Times, “We decided to stop thinking about our mill and actually do something to save it.”
The Appleton Coated Paper Mill, which still owned the plant, bought into their plan and agreed to hire the two to look after the plant as they desperately tried to sell the plant to anyone who would look at. I’ve seen many other such abandoned plants in my day, buying a couple of them, and generally what you find is that caretakers like this who used to work at the plant sit around playing cards and bemoaning the fact that the economic engine in town is dead. They sit around, hoping that the old times return. And, they never do.
If Leroux and Durham had taken that approach, they would have been correct. No one was ever going to reopen a plant that was in as bad of shape as the Newton Falls Paper Mill. But, they didn’t just sit around letting the building and equipment slowly deteriorate. Rather, they lubricated machines, shoveled snow, swept up debris and tried to make the plant look like it had just closed down. And, they kept that up for years as they continued to try to find anyone who would buy the plant to operate it rather than just scrapping it out.
In 2006, this two man ED organization approached Dennis Bunnell, who had once been president of the mill, showing him how they had maintained the building and paper making equipment. He put together a plan, some partners and purchased the long closed plant for $20 million.
On Sept. 7, 2007, the new Newton Falls Fine Paper plant reopened with 97 new employees, including Leroux and Durham. Over 600 applicants applied for those jobs with about half of the workforce having worked in the mill previously. Many left their new employment to return to “their mill.”
Raymond Fountain, head of the St. Lawrence County Office of Economic Development says of the new mill, “It is adding about $18 million to our local economy, including a $4 million payroll.”
And, it all happened because two “Can Do” guys said, “This isn’t going to happen to my mill. We’re going to do something to get it back going.”