LUKE — Allegany County commissioners recognized the economic and historical importance of the Luke paper mill Thursday by visiting the town and issuing a citation recognizing the 125 years of the mill’s operation. The mill is owned by the NewPage Corp. The mill is the oldest manufacturer in Allegany County and employs 830 people.
The mill began operations in 1888 as the Piedmont Pulp and Paper Company, according to a fact sheet from the company.
The mill is “a pillar of this community,” said Matthew Diaz, the director of economic and community development. “When you talk about 50 years of anything, that’s considered a major milestone ... this is 125 years,” Diaz said.
“I appreciate all of your support and the support of the people here,” Richard J. Watro, the plant manager, told commissioners. Watro said he’d been at the plant for almost 35 years. “I’ve been a part of generations,” Watro said, describing one plant employee who was the fourth generation in his family working at the plant. Watro said the plant brings a $200 million yearly impact to the county.
Commissioners presented Watro, as a representative of the plant, with a Janesville toy wagon filled with Allegany County-made products.
“While companies with different names have owned the mill, in our county family it is simply known as ‘the mill’,”, Commission President Michael McKay said. Commissioners also presented Watro with a commissioned drawing by local artist Angela Hedrick, who portrayed the mill as it was circa 1908.
“It will be hanging at the entrance to the mill tomorrow,” Watro said.
“It is great to pay tribute to a mill that has been here so long,” said Commissioner Bill Valentine.
Commissioner Creade Brodie, Jr. reminisced about his many contacts with the mill over the years as he worked various jobs. “I’m just one of thousands who have stories, and good stories, of the mill,” Brodie said.
“Since 2005, approximately $142 million has been invested in equipment, process modifications and manufacturing technologies to ensure that the Luke operations are safe, productive and environmentally sound,” the fact sheet reported. The plant operates on 228 acres and has the capacity to produce 480,000 tons of paper per year.
Luke mayor Ed Clemons Jr. thanked commissioners for bringing the meeting to Luke and recognizing the mill.
Commissioners also agreed to purchase four acres in the North Branch Industrial Park for $75,000 from PPG Road Land LLC. The four acre parcel isn’t needed by companies currently in the park. By purchasing the land, the county will have the land available should other companies decide to expand their operations in the park, said Diaz. It was previously reported that the county was selling the land, which was incorrect.
Commissioners recognized the mill at their regular business meeting at the Luke City Building at 510 Grant St.
Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at email@example.com.