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Brokaw mill closing, 450 jobs lost

BROKAW, Wis. -- Wausau Paper Company has announced that it will close its mill in the Village of Brokaw, leaving 450 people without jobs. The news is more than an economic blow to the people who live in the community.

In a news release, Wausau Paper President and CEO Thomas Howatt said the decision to close the mill was "driven by dramatic and irreversible market demand decline" in its print and color paper business, and that the closure "is in no way a reflection of (the employees') skill, talents or determination." The news is devastating not just to the 450 workers who will lose their jobs, but to the community of Brokaw where the paper company got its start. Rochelle Frank is a village board member whose father worked at the mill, "I'm in shock that this is happening because I've lived here all of my life. Between 400 and 500 jobs. It will be very devastating for the people that work in the mill. Where are they going to find any jobs? It's going to hurt us."

Brokaw grew up as a company town at the turn of the last century. Its identity and reason for existence are tied to Wausau Paper. Homeowners in the small village have language in their deeds giving the company the first right to purchase when they move out. Many houses have been acquired and destroyed by Wausau Paper over the years, leaving empty lots that need to be maintained. Rochelle Frank wonders who is going to take care of them now, "Where the empty lots are right now? Who's going to shovel the sidewalks, because the paper mill does that? What's going to happen to what's been destroyed? What's going to happen to the deeds of the people that are still living here?"

Wausau Paper's print and color brands have been sold to Neenah Paper company. The Brokaw mill will be closed by March 31.