Bid for Verso Paper could stall proposal to buy closed Wisconsin Rapids mill

By: - July 15, 2021 6:21 am

The Verso Paper mill in Wisconsin Rapids (J. Stephen Conn | via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0 )

A preliminary offer to buy out Verso Paper has brought new uncertainty to an effort by timber-industry businesses that have formed a cooperative to buy Verso’s shuttered Wisconsin Rapids plant and reopen it.

Verso confirmed Wednesday that it has been offered $20 a share by Atlas Holdings LLC, but the company said it would not comment on the unsolicited bid “until it is appropriate to do so or a formal agreement has been reached.”

Verso owns operating paper mills in Escanaba and Quinnesec, Mich., along with an operating paper converting plant in Wisconsin Rapids.

Verso’s papermaking plant in Wisconsin Rapids closed a year ago. In response, members of the timber industry and other associated businesses have formed a cooperative with the intent to buy and reopen the paper mill.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a bill July 8 that would have used a $65 million loan from federal pandemic relief funds to help finance the cooperative’s purchase of the closed mill as well as another in Park Falls. Evers said that the risk was too great that federal rules for the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) would not permit that use.

The governor, noting a surplus of about $1 billion in unappropriated funds in the new state budget, urged lawmakers to instead apply state taxpayer funds to the project Democratic lawmakers this week are circulating draft legislation to do that.

If the Atlas bid is accepted, it’s not certain what that would mean for the timber industry’s Consolidated Cooperative, Don Peterson, the co-op’s administrator, said Wednesday.

 “We’re waiting like everybody else to see what this really means,” Peterson told the Wisconsin Examiner. “We have no idea what Atlas’ intent is or how they would operate.”

An official with the United Steelworkers union, which represents workers at Verso, including those who were displaced by the plant’s shutdown a year ago, said Wednesday that the Atlas offer had the potential to be a good deal for all involved.

Atlas Holdings, which already owns 9% of Verso shares, has other paper companies where the union represents employees, said Mike Bolton, director of the Steelworkers’ district that encompasses Wisconsin and Michigan.

“We know the leaders of the Atlas group,” Bolton said. “They have been good partners in the paper industry and [with] other paper holdings that they own.”

While Atlas hasn’t discussed its intentions for the closed Wisconsin Rapids plant, he added, the bidder seems likely to have plans of some kind for it.

“Why would another company buy all of Verso, including the mill that’s shut down, if they didn’t plan on doing something with it?” Bolton asked.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.