Mill Town remains stable despite closure | News, Sports, Jobs

The former Appvion paper mill stands empty in Roaring Spring on July 22, 2021. The borough of Roaring Spring is holding strong economically despite the spring 2021 closure of the mill, which employed 293 workers at the time. Mirror archive photo of Patrick Waksmunski

ROARING SPRING – Many years ago, Don Mingle told his son that the family probably couldn’t keep their Roaring Spring department store open if the stationery store in town ever closed.

In the spring of 2021, the stationery closed – yet the store persists, and there hasn’t even been a noticeable drop in business, which remains “solid,” according to the son, Doug, who now runs the operation.

The difference between what Doug’s father recognized decades ago and what has happened in Roaring Spring since the Appvion plant closed reflects – and reinforces – the borough’s continued transition from a classic factory town to something more suburban, with a “bedroom community feel”, says Doug Mingle.

In recent times the factory had begun to attract workers from further afield than before and as a result there was a smaller concentration of local residents working at the factory when it closed.

Conversely, in recent times, a higher percentage of Roaring Spring area residents have worked farther, according to Mingle.

The closure of the factory, which employed 293 people when it ceased operations, accelerated this decline in the number of local employees.

Also in recent times, local businesses, including trucking companies, had diversified their customer base, becoming less dependent on factory service.

The history of its own store traces traces that move away from dependence, with its beginnings in 1883 as a company store – the workers buying for wages, the steam from the mill heating the interior – through the hiring of his grandfather as store manager in 1915, his purchase of the operation in 1941, and the store’s current branding as True Value hardware.

Due to such changes in the community, the effect of the plant closure was not as severe as initially feared and “not as bad as it would have been” if it had happened decades ago, according to Mingle.

Decades ago that would have meant “a struggle” for the community, Mingle said.

Now people seem to have “pick up the pieces” — although they did so amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have covered up some of the upheaval, he said.

Most of the people who lost their jobs also seemed to have resisted a possible urge to move, believing that Morrisons Cove is still a nice place to live.

“We are not witnessing a mass exodus” he said.

On a smaller scale, Roaring Spring’s move to a more diverse employment area mirrored what happened in Altoona — historically a railroad town, according to Cathy Lingenfelter, who works at an insurance office in Roaring Spring.

Fewer than 25 of the plant’s employees at the time of the closure were actually borough residents, according to borough manager Lisa Peel.

The boroughs’ lost revenue from the shutdown was mostly limited to the loss of the local utility tax they paid, which amounted to about $14,000 a year, Peel said.

strong morale

Morale in town remains high and people seem to be looking forward to the upcoming construction of three new restaurants – an Arby’s, a Dunkin’ Donuts and a Fox’s Pizza Den, not far from Conemaugh Nason Medical Center, according to Peel.

The plant closure did not affect insurance business, Lingenfelter said.

However, it is “very sad,” she says.

It impressed the community enough that a ballad about factory shutdown sung about six months ago by an open-mic attendee at a new brewery pub sparked an emotional reaction from the crowd.

She knows retirees from the factory who consider themselves lucky to have been able to leave before the shutdown forced them to leave, she said.

She knows of others who weren’t so lucky and had to take lower-paying jobs and change their lifestyles.

They had to ” belt up “, she says.

Brenda Frederick works at a discount store, and it was busy, which may reflect the reduced financial situation of these families, Frederick told the Roaring Spring Community Library this week.

It can happen when people who were making $35 an hour are now making $10, said library worker Cortney Gensimore.

Former factory employees who are in-laws of Jean Claycomb, president of EF Smith Trucking, now work in jobs where they earn half as much.

“They had to learn to live within their means” she says.

No total surprise

Most had planned for closure at some point and had saved up to provide a cushion, she said.

Mitch Becker was president of the local United Steelworkers union at the plant when it closed.

Now, he’s been taking a two-year course in computer networking and programming at the South Hills School of Business and Technology for two semesters, along with three other former factory employees.

“I don’t think I’m doing badly” Becker said. “I made the dean’s list both times.”

He was comfortable in his life at the plant as a pipe fitter/millwright, working in maintenance, he said.

It was physically and mentally engaging, as it involved both turning keys and figuring out why things weren’t working properly, he said.

He had planned to retire from the mill.

But he has been interested in computers for a long time. He still has the Tandy Color 2 he got in 1984.

And programming and computer science are also interesting, if only mentally: he sometimes goes home in the evening and wonders about the problems encountered at school.

Now he hopes to find a job that pays as much as the factory, after graduating in mid-2023.

Still, it hasn’t been easy, as he lives on unemployment benefit, supplemented by savings.

“Would I rather the factory didn’t close and I didn’t have to go back to school in my late 50s? » he asked rhetorically. “Yes.”

But since it happened, “I appreciate the path I have chosen” he said.

Library help

There has been an increase in the number of people seeking help at the library, where there is free Wi-Fi which allows them to search for jobs and apply for benefits such as unemployment and where there is a pop-up pantry, according to Library Director Michelle McIntyre.

People are “falling through the cracks” McIntyre said.

COVID-19 and inflation play a role, though it’s hard to tell the difference between those effects and the effects of the plant shutdown, Frederick said.

In addition to job losses due to COVID-19, there has also been an increase in family reliance on income earned by young people who found jobs when schools closed – income that disappeared when school resumed, hurting those families, Frederick said.

According to McIntyre, the plant’s closure will also likely result in losses for businesses such as restaurants and catering businesses that would have benefited from the patronage of the plant itself and employees from outside the plant. who frequented them outside working hours.

And it’s likely causing losses to the agencies, organizations and groups that benefited from donations made by the factory and its employees — including the library itself and the youth teams that rely on sponsorships, McIntyre said.

“Little things like that are gone” McIntyre said.

Closing the factory was no easy feat for EF Smith.

The paper mill supplied about 40% of the trucking company’s business, according to Claycomb, who spoke in his office as an unusual flurry of snow fell this week.

The company transported rolls of paper, latex, oil and other materials, another Smith employee said last year.

Now Smith hauls chips and pallets to a paper mill in Johnsonburg for customers in the Piney Creek and Curryville areas of Morrisons Cove, Claycomb said.

EF Smith also accepted “brokerage” or posting loads from its neighboring, but unrelated trucking company, Smith Transport, Claycomb said.

The company is on track to make up for lost stationery revenue, Claycomb said.

“We have recovered – but not as well as we would like”, said Claycomb.

no resurrection

A year after closure, and after a multi-company consortium bought the plant and was unable to sell it as a turnkey operation and sold off much of the manufacturing equipment from the paper, the townspeople realize that it will not be recovered to its former use, according to meddle.

“Now that’s just what’s going to happen next,” said Mingle.

It is unlikely to be repurposed as a stationery, confirmed Bill Firestone, chairman of Capital Recovery Group, one of four companies in the LLC consortium.

But there is “prospects” who examined the complex, Firestone said.

Potential uses include “something with wooden products,” as well as warehousing and distribution, Firestone said.

Roaring Spring remains an employment hub, with Conemaugh Nason, the New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co. quarry and related operations near town, Roaring Spring Paper Products of Martinsburg, which began as the adjacent Roaring Spring Blank Book at the factory, the Cove Shoe Co. factory in Martinsburg and the Spring Cove School District — with agriculture continuing to be the dominant industry for the cove as a whole, according to Mingle.

But the mill was a key part of the town’s identity, like the railroad in Altoona, people have acknowledged.

The smell was a frequent topic of conversation for drivers making deliveries to the department store, according to Mingle.

Lingenfelter remembers sitting on her porch as a child in Duncansville and smelling the smell of the mill when the wind was good and the air was humid – before filtration reduced the production of chimneys.

Now, that smell is no longer a potential deterrent to people from out of the area considering moving to Roaring Spring, Mingle said.

It was a smell that people who lived in the borough never noticed, according to Mingle.

Now it’s just cow manure, when farmers spread it on the fields, he says.

“I don’t think it will ever be the same” said Lingenfelter. “I don’t know if you want to call it progress.”

The Mirror’s staff writer, William Kibler, is at 814-949-7038.

Today’s breaking news and more to your inbox

Comments are closed.