Closure of Verso paper mill hurts Wickliffe businesses and community

The closure of the Verso paper mill in Wickliffe doesn’t only impact the employees who are losing their jobs. It impacts the entire community.

People in the area say they’re discouraged. They say they were holding onto the idea the mill would be sold and it wouldn’t come down to a closure.

Business at the Wheel Wagon restaurant in Wickliffe has been slower than usual during the past five months, but that hasn’t stopped cook Lila Holloway from working harder than ever.

"Struggling to find work and take care of the kids, it just pretty much impacted everything. It’s impacted everything," Holloway said.

She’s trying to provide for her family after her boyfriend lost his job at the Verso paper mill. He’s one of hundreds losing their jobs because the mill is shutting down.

"Everybody. It impacts everybody: schools , the bank, stores," Holloway said.

Wagon Wheel owner Sandra Vanburen says it’s impacting the restaurant too.

"Three hundred and something people is a whole lot of people for this community, you know. It’s sad," Vanburen said.

Come July 1, the mill will be completely shut down. That’s $100 to $250 Vanburen says the restaurant is losing in lunch deliveries.

"You just never know what’s going to happen. You just take it day by day," Vanburen said.

Holloway is taking it day by day too. She still holds on to the hope that the mill sells. "We all still have faith, but if it don’t, we don’t know what’s going to happen," she said.

Vanburen says the restaurant had to cut positions and hours. She says its lost about $1,000 week since the mill’s idling in November.

Debbie Jinnings is the manager at another Wickliffe business. She says if sales go down, the store would have to cut jobs and employees hours. That means more people without a pay check.

Jinnings says at this point the store hasn’t lost any business, but the idea of the mill’s closure is discouraging.

"You want your community to thrive. We all want the best things for our community, for our kids, and it just kind of kills an area when a business like them go out," Jinnings said.

Furloughed employees and those still working at the mill were told their last day of employment with Verso is expected to be June 4.

Gov. Matt Bevin released a statement Tuesday about the closure: 

"On behalf of the Commonwealth, Governor Bevin extends his support to the employees and families affected by the closure of Verso Corp.’s paper mill in Wickliffe, which had been idle since late last year. The loss of 390 jobs from western Kentucky’s workforce is truly unfortunate. The State is helping to find a buyer for the facility to bring jobs back to the area. Furthermore, the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, through its Kentucky Career Center, will be working to assist the workers who will be adversely affected, assisting with a variety of employment services. Additionally, as we do for all regions of Kentucky, the Commonwealth is actively recruiting businesses – both existing and new – to invest in and bring new job opportunities to the area."

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