SARTELL, Minn. - A day after Verso Paper announced it would close the longtime paper mill in Sartell, state and federal officials pledged to help.
The mill temporarily closed in May after an explosion killed worker, Jon Maus, and injured four others. The century old plant has been part of Sartell longer than the town itself.
"Today is the first day of the next 100 years," said Gov. Mark Dayton. "We are going to do everything humanly possible, all of us working together, to make that day in the near future one of ribbon-cutting and celebration."
Dayton and Sen. Amy Klobuchar met with a newly formed task force of local and state officials Friday afternoon. The group is charged with figuring out what to do with the Verso Paper mill.
"I was so impressed by the energy in that room and by commitment to the workers in this plant," said Klobuchar of the afternoon meeting.
Nearly 260 workers are out of a job, some of whom for the first time in their lives.
"And what we'll need help with mostly from them is how to go do interviews and resumes and stuff because people haven't done anything for 30, 35 years. They go out there and they're scared to death," said mill worker and union representative Dale Dirks.
State officials say training on how to find and retain a job is available. And they believe with severance pay and unemployment benefits, laid off workers will have about a year of an economic cushion.
The mill's laid off workers from last year are eligible for an extension of their unemployment benefits as well, said Klobuchar.
"This is not just a local issue. The closing of the Verso plant impacts districts across the state of Minnesota," said St. Cloud Rep. Steve Gottwalt.
How big of an impact is still unclear, but officials fear the timber and trucking industry will feel the wake from the closing.
Dayton indicated he may propose some type of aid to repair the facility where the mill sits during the Legislature's special session which is tentatively scheduled for later this month.
But for now, the community of Sartell is grieving for a second time.
"We grieved the loss of life at that mill and that was painful. Now we're going to grieve the loss of those jobs," said Sartell Mayor Joe Perske.
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