WICK-LIFFE, KY — For the past several years, it seemed as if Wickliffe, Kentucky, was a dying town with hardly any jobs or opportunities, but that’s changing.
About eight months ago Chinese company Global Win purchased the closed Verso paper mill in Wickliffe with the intent to re-open it. The mill’s new name is Phoenix Paper, and it’s already having an impact on the community.
“It’s been booming. It’s doing real well,” says Michael Hargrove.
Hargrove has lived in Ballard County most of his life. He’s seen good times and bad. Hargrove says the past few years have been tough without the mill.
“When it shut down, it kind of drained the town. Everything started going down hill a little bit,” says Hargrove.
Hargrove says things are starting to turn around. He opened up a restaurant in December of last year. Since activity started back up at the mill, Hargrove says he’s getting takeout orders almost daily.
“Actually, for the mill, we upgraded our kitchen so we could handle the demand of the to-go orders,” says Hargrove.
Phoenix Paper General Manager Craig Tatum says they’ve been busy getting the mill ready for production.
“Re-opening is an opportunity not a lot of folks get,” says Tatum.
Right now, some 500 contractors are working, and around 200 Phoenix Paper employees are already on site working and training. Some of them worked at the Verso mill before it closed.
“That first day when they come on board and start talking about restarting the mill, they’re ready to start today. They’re ready to get after it today, and we have to temper that a little bit,” says Tatum.
Ballard County Judge Executive Todd Cooper says just the sight of full parking lots and lumber being stacked is boosting the community’s morale.
“I just think hope has been brought back. Of course the paper mill is the driver behind that, but I just think people have been given hope,” says Cooper.
Tatum says the target date to start full production for a finished product is May 23, but pre-production will likely start in early May.