Monday, May 23, 2011 - 08:26
MACLEOD PAPPIDAS | THE DAILY WORLD Cosmopolis mayor Vickie Raines speaks to a crowd of people during the grand opening of the Cosmo Specialty Fibers mill Saturday. Sharing the stage with Raines are, from left, Tim Meyers of the Gores Group, Cosmo CEO Michael Entz, Plant Operator Kent Beach, Cosmo Specialty Fibers board chairman Dermot Smurfit, Deputy District Director for congressman Norm Dicks, Sara Crumb and Governor Gregoire's Chief of Staff Jay Manning.
MACLEOD PAPPIDAS | THE DAILY WORLD An emotional Cosmopolis mayor Vickie Raines addresses the crowd.
MACLEOD PAPPIDAS | THE DAILY WORLD Hoquiam resident Debi Jo Johnson, who previously worked at the Weyerhaeuser Co. mill, signs a message board in a loading bay of Cosmo Specialty Fibers during a grand opening ceremony for the mill in Cosmopolis Saturday.
MACLEOD PAPPIDAS | THE DAILY WORLD Canadian entrepreneur Richard Bassett, left, shakes hands with Cosmo Specialty Fibers board chairman Dermot Smurfit during the grand opening of the mill in Cosmopolis Saturday. Bassett was responsible for connecting the parties, including Smurfit, responsible for reopening the mill.
By Steven Friederich
The Daily World
For years, Canadian entrepreneur Richard Bassett stood alone, trying to convince would-be buyers the Cosmopolis Pulp Mill was a viable plant and that the Weyerhaeuser Co. was in error for shutting it down in September of 2006.
On Saturday, Bassett was joined by hundreds of people during the mill’s grand-opening celebration and he was recognized time and again as the architect of the plan that added 200 jobs to the Harbor and brought the mill back to life.
“I can assure you today, we would not be here today were it not for Richard Bassett,” said Cosmopolis Mayor Vickie Raines.
Teaming up with Irish paper entrepreneur Dermot Smurfit, the two found a private equity firm in the Gores Group of Los Angeles to come together and purchase the mill from Weyerhaeuser. The Gores Group has since invested “tens of millions” of dollars into the Cosi Pulp Mill, which is expected to funnel more than $110 million annually into the economy, according to a company estimate.
More than 750 people gathered at the grand opening for Cosmo Specialty Fibers on Saturday in a warehouse on the mill’s campus. The event had a carnival atmosphere with face painting for kids, finger foods and a wandering magician. White curtains lit by a rainbow of vertical lights and bales of hay for people to sit on. The company gave away a trip to Las Vegas and a big screen television.
It was a time to reflect on the past and look toward the future.
“Here we are,” said Kent Beach, the senior operator of the bleach plant, who worked for Weyerhaeuser for 15 years and was recently hired back. “We have unfinished business and a chance to finish what we started. This mill is ready to go. Economic life has been breathed back into the Harbor and we have a clean slate to make this mill exactly what we knew it could be. …”
“For me, this is a very special day,” he added. “I’m where I want to be, doing what I want to do, living my life the way I want to live it. It’ll be even better when the very floor we’re standing on is piled high with bales of pulp ready to ship around the world with our name on it.”
Cosmo Specialty Fibers CEO Michael Entz announced the company will provide the City of Cosmopolis with the funds to hire a new police officer.
Following the mill’s closure in 2006, the city laid off two officers and was left with only Police Chief Casey Stratton and two officers. Stratton says he’s beginning the hiring process immediately.
Entz also announced that on Friday the pulp being produced at the mill had been verified by an independent laboratory. “We can now hit the worldwide market and sell tons of it out there,” Entz said.
Smurfit, who is also the Cosmo board president, said the mill has attracted contracts with a mix of old customers of the Weyerhaeuser mill and new customers.
“We have a number of contracts with people who know the quality, and trust the quality coming from here,” Smurfit said. “We just need to re-qualify and we’re in the process of doing that right now.”
The mill will move slowly toward creating an acetate blend from pulp, which is what the mill was creating before Weyerhaeuser closed it down.
“My initial reaction was totally negative,” Smurfit said. “Richard Bassett, however, is a hard guy to say no to. And I would like to acknowledge him again today as the true father of the rebirth of this mill. Without his tenacity, without his perseverance, today would simply not be happening.”
Bassett, who is now Cosmo’s head of sales and trading, said he had his doubts over the years.
“For a while, there it was really lonely,” Bassett said. “And for a number of years, nobody (wanted) to talk to me.”
Bassett said he made more than 150 pitches in several different countries looking for investors before Smurfit finally expressed an interest.
Together, they went to the Gores Group, headed by Alec Gores. Forbes Magazine last year ranked Gores as the 616th richest person with a net worth of $1.6 billion and a private equity firm that has invested billions of dollars in 80 companies around the world.
Smurfit said that private equity companies often get a bad reputation for being only concerned about the dollar.
“Here in Cosmopolis is a very positive role that private equity can play since, without the support and the dollars of the Gores Group, who are both brave enough and farsighted enough to put up the majority of the tens of millions of dollars required to re-open the mill, we would not be standing here today,” Smurfit said.
Tim Meyer, a managing director of the Gores Group, said the mill is a “great example of what’s right with American business.”
“Other investment firms saw an orphan mill no longer needed by one of the world’s pre-eminent wood products company shuttered for four years requiring significant capital improvement and without a guaranteed supply of fiber,” Meyer said. “We saw it differently. We saw exploding middle classes in China and India requiring dissolving pulp feedstock to make warm climate clothing and other everyday necessities.”
Meyer said the mill is in a perfect place to create pulp for LED screens, clothing, pharmaceuticals, food processing and many other products. He said there’s a potential for the mill to create ethanol and butanol and run almost entirely on biomass.
“The Gores Group saw opportunity in Cosmopolis where others did not,” he said.
“That is our strength,” Alec Gores added in a press release. “The ability to see a potential investment opportunity not obvious to others and then dive deep and fast with 360 degrees of due diligence that draws on world class, in-house expertise.”
Beach, a former Cosi employee, said there had been “close calls” with other buyers of the mill over the years.
“People’s hopes get up and then just as soon they’re crushed,” Beach said. “You start to give up on the community and the things you believe in. Finally after four years, a man in Canada living in England sells a vision to a group of investors in Los Angeles. I don’t think anyone saw that coming.”
LIVE LONG AND PROSPER
At the grand opening celebration, the company posted a wall of paper for those to sign messages.
“Wonderful for all of Grays Harbor,” wrote Kristie Bigelow-Maupin, whose daughter was laid off at the old mill after 15 years and was recently re-hired back.
“Glad to see the mill re-open,” wrote Bart Drango of Snoqualmie, who supplied chemicals to the old mill and will be a vendor for Cosmo.
“Live Long and Prosper,” wrote Bob Martin, using the fitting catch phrase from “Star Trek.”
Edgar DeVore was among those who first started at the old Weyerhaeuser mill when it opened in 1957. He retired in 1979 and at 97 years old, he said he never thought he’d see the day when the mill re-opened.
His son, Darryl DeVore, worked at the mill for 34 years before he was laid off. He was hired back on to work in the machine room under Cosmo Specialty Fibers.
“This community needs this mill,” said Edgar DeVore. “The mill is the life blood of Cosmopolis. It needs to stay open for the city to survive.”
Raines said she was told to expect the mill to be dismantled and a grass field to be in its place following the closure.
Wiping away the occasional tear, Raines said it was taking all of her composure to realize that was just not going to happen.
“Despite some incredible hardships, this community never gave up on itself,” said Gov. Chris Gregoire, who had to cancel her appearance at the last second because of legislative issues, but sent a message by e-mail.
“Thanks to the community’s tenacity, we are able to re-open the Cosmopolis Mill and create 200 jobs that will support families, small businesses and a brighter future, Gregoire said.”
Steven Friederich, a Daily World writer, can be reached at (360) 537-3927 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org