Company closes in on September launch of retooled tissue machine, adding jobs

by: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - A human resources sign hangs outside the location of Cascade Tissues Groups operation at the former Boise Inc. mill in St. Helens. The Canada-based company anticipates hiring 29 new employees by September.State and local officials toured the Cascades Tissue Group plant in St. Helens Monday, March 31, roughly five months ahead of the launch of the plant’s second production machine.

Cascades Tissue Group, which currently employs 60 full-time workers at the former Boise Inc. mill site in St. Helens, anticipates adding 29 employees when the machine becomes operational in September.

Plant manager Eric Prochnow said the machine, which is being retooled to manufacture tissue instead of paper as it had under Boise Inc.’s management, increases the plant’s presence within Cascades Tissue Group’s portfolio.

“It gives us more security for the future. We are a larger part of the Cascade organization once that machine is started up and running,” Prochnow said of the $30 million expansion. “Certainly we are more profitable with that machine.”

Headquartered in Canada, Cascades Tissue Group is the fourth largest manufacturer of tissue paper in North America.

The tour coincided with an announcement from Business Oregon, the state’s economic development arm, that it had provided the plant with a $60,000 forgivable loan to train staff to work on the converted tissue machine.

“We are pleased with Cascade Tissue’s decision to re-invest in Oregon and expand its operations here in St. Helens,” said Business Oregon Director Tim McCabe.

Under the terms of the forgivable loan, Cascades Tissue Group must maintain both existing and new employees at the site for two years or repay the loan.

St. Helens Mayor Randy Peterson said Cascades Tissue Group’s investment and decision to stay in St. Helens following the December 2012 departure of Boise Inc. involved a collaborative approach from several agencies, including the city.

“As far as economic development and saving and creating jobs, it’s just great that we’re able to do that,” he said.

Peterson said that, while he is encouraged by Cascades’ sustained presence, he doesn’t see a quick return to the city’s strong industrial past anytime soon.

“Over time, the city has changed from a big industrial base to more commercial-residential, but I don’t see St. Helens ever getting out of the industrial-use business, just because we have a lot the things industry needs,” he said, pointing to an available inventory of land as well as rail, river and highway access.

City and Boise Inc. officials are currently negotiating terms on the possibility the city could take ownership of the mill. Peterson said he is confident Cascades Tissue Group’s presence would not be affected by the negotiations.

“I don’t think that would have any effect on Cascades’ operation,” Peterson said. “I think Cascades, no matter who owns the proprerty, would be a valuable tenant to the property owners.”

Prochnow echoed Peterson’s confidence.

“We’re aware of the discussions between Boise and the city on the status of the property,” he said. “We feel good about the future with either entity, with either Boise or the city owning the property.”

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