TICONDEROGA — International Paper’s Ticonderoga mill was the backdrop Monday as U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand detailed her plan to train more people for good-paying high-tech jobs.
After first touring the cavernous paper machine room at the 610-worker facility, Gillibrand (D-NY) stood before a podium in the mill’s main conference room to tout the benefits of the legislation she’s sponsoring to expand and attract more high-tech manufacturing within New York state, as well as training workers for the jobs that are created.
“The No. 1 issue in the North Country and around the state is how can we get our economy to grow?” she told a gathering of area business leaders and mill staff. “We have to make sure next-generation manufacturing can thrive and grow in New York.”
She is the primary sponsor and author of the Made In America Manufacturing Act, just introduced in Congress. Gillibrand said the bill has several co-sponsors in the Senate and a sponsor in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI).
“It targets exactly what our manufacturers have asked for,” Gillibrand said. “It would create a revolving-loan fund available to manufacturers.
“Second, it would fund job-training programs so jobs can go to the workers that are available.”
Gillibrand said one of the issues she hears over and over is that jobs are available but potential workers are not trained for them, and her bill is designed to address that problem. She pointed to a 2011 study by the Manufacturing Institute that said 600,000 manufacturing jobs across the nation went unfilled due to a shortage of skilled workers to do them.
Ticonderoga Mill Manager Chris Mallon said Gillibrand has shown continued support for the paper industry and the North Country in general.
“What she’s doing would be good for International Paper,” Mallon said. “We support the bill. It provides exciting opportunities for partnerships that focus on enhancing and expanding our manufacturing base.”
Besides the competitive loan fund and job training, Gillibrand’s bill would provide technical assistance to increase export opportunities for manufacturers by analyzing markets and connecting small businesses to larger companies as suppliers or to win government or private contracts.
Gillibrand’s bill would award up to $20 million in low-interest loans for each regional or state manufacturing hub.
Applicants’ plans would be evaluated by the U.S. Department of Commerce and Department of Labor to ensure that they’re feasible and include job creation, private investment and cost-savings by manufacturers.
Mill Communications Manager Donna Wadsworth said IP has to continually strive to be competitive as a papermaker.
“Modern equipment, energy efficiencies, product development and a highly skilled workforce are essential to our success and our future. This initiative is an important step in ensuring the future of manufacturing and industry in our country, our state and the North Country.”
The Ticonderoga mill is also served by about 700 independent loggers and truckers for its wood and produces 900 tons a day of commercial and office printing papers. Its payroll in 2012 was $51.1 million.
North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said the loans and training in Gillibrand’s bill are what businesses have been looking for.
“What kind of tools would help to attract companies and keep existing companies here? They need to make key investments, as International Paper is doing here to convert to a new fuel source.”
The Ticonderoga mill is preparing to convert its power boiler from expensive fuel oil to more affordable natural gas, providing that Vermont Gas can extend a proposed pipeline from Middlebury, Vt., under Lake Champlain to the mill.
READY TO TRAIN
North Country Community College President Steve Tyrell said his institution is ready to provide the kind of training Gillibrand is talking about.
“This proposed legislation will, in all essence, create the type of degree program that will serve the region.”
Gillibrand said she’s been all over New York state to get input for her bill.
“We spoke to manufacturers across the state to see what they wanted. It’s (the bill) not a Republican or a Democrat idea; it’s just a good idea.”
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