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165 are on GPT payroll, down 45 in 3 months' time

February 26, 2014
GORHAM — "Two machines are running today: No. 6, the new tissue machine that produced its first commercial run on Oct. 3, 2012, and the tried-and-true No. 9 toweling machine — once called Mr. Nibroc — that makes away-from-home towels," reported Gorham Paper and Tissue (GPT) CEO Mike Cummings who updated the press about the Cascade mill on Friday, Feb. 21, after participating in Congresswoman Annie Kuster's roundtable discussion. Because of advance orders, the tissue machine essentially runs nonstop, he said, and No. 9 runs four or five days a week; there is greater demand for this product in fair weather months when customers are away from home.

A total of 165 employees are on payroll, he said, noting that three months ago the number stood at 210.

Cummings announced on Jan. 3 that the mill would be undertaking a temporary restructuring due to sharply increased "spot" price of natural gas drawn from the Portland Natural Gas Transmission System (PNGTS). Twenty workers were laid off permanently.

Gas prices have soared high enough on some days to make it prohibitive to produce competitively priced toweling.

The No. 1 offset paper machine, used to make packaging for fast food, has been idled.

"As a result the 145 union members are not working 40 hours a week, although they are making the best of a bad situation," the CEO said. "Quality and speed are up, and we're coming out this stronger, tempered by fire," he said.

Perhaps surprisingly the focus on only two machines has improved product quality.

"Tissue being produced on the No. 6 machine is as good as there is in America: soft, absorbent, and strong," Cummings said.

GPT is looking to develop strategies to avoid being so vulnerable to natural gas price spikes that puts the mill's products at a big disadvantage when competing with companies in states with an ample supply.

Cummings has been at the mill for 10 months, following his being hired by industrialist Lynn Tilton of New York, the CEO and sole principal of Patriarch Partners LLC, a private equity firm managing some $8 billion in assets.

Tilton bought the venerable paper mill on the Androscoggin River in May 2011, adding it to the Patriarch Partners' portfolio.

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