2012-08-16 / Front Page

Manistique Papers tour offers insight

Gov. Rick Snyder, right, stops to converse with Jon Johnson, Manistique Papers executive vice president and general manager during a tour of the paper mill Monday. 
Pioneer Tribune photo Gov. Rick Snyder, right, stops to converse with Jon Johnson, Manistique Papers executive vice president and general manager during a tour of the paper mill Monday. Pioneer Tribune photo MANISTIQUE – With the rumblings of an operational Manistique Papers in the background, Gov. Rick Snyder visited with company representatives and members of the Manistique community Monday. The stop was the first of the governor’s Upper Peninsula tour, and marked the anniversary of a more solemn visit a year ago.

According to Jon Johnson, executive vice president and general manager of the mill, this year, Snyder’s trip marked a reason to celebrate.

“It was a year ago yesterday that we filed the paperwork and filed for bankruptcy,” he said.

Johnson noted it was the swift action of players like the governor and mBank, along with the mill’s employees, suppliers and current owner, the Watermill Group, which saved the company.

Standing up to address the crowd, Snyder noted the sound of the mill’s operation in the background was the “sound of jobs”. He also explained that, at this time a year ago, he had received a call that this sound had stopped, about the mill’s situation, and the approximately 150 jobs at stake. It was then he made the decision to come to the community to meet with Johnson and the institution who would serve as their new lender – mBank.

“The people sitting all around that table – there was no one sitting there to say, ‘we can’t do this’ or ‘this is too hard’,” Snyder said. “The attitude was: we can do this, we will do this.”

It was because of the passion at the table, and that soon spread throughout the community, that he was able to get behind the mill’s cause and help in any way possible, he said.

“You generated belief by others, by other Michiganders, that this was the right thing to do,” Snyder explained. “That is the spirit of our state, that is the spirit of this comeback. And I hope you keep that fire and passion going, because we have much more work to do.”

This “comeback” mentality is one driving the state forward, he added, noting that the state’s unemployment has improved more than any other state, and personal income is also rising.

“Our economy’s growing faster than the rest of the country,” he said. “Many good things are going on, and the main message out of that – it’s great to see the progress, but let’s not be content, nor complacent with what we’ve gotten done. It’s not good enough, and we are going to keep going.”

After sitting at what Snyder referred to as the “bottom” for years, Michigan is finally embracing an action plan and pulling itself out. The plan now, he noted, is to continue down this path to ensure the state stays on track with its recovery.

“We are going to continue to be that comeback state, and to show the nation that you can solve problems,” he said. “We can balance the budget, we can do a better tax system, we can understand the private sector is the one that creates the jobs, and we need to support them in that success.”

The benefits of supporting that success is shown in the story of the mill, explained Snyder. The company is the perfect example of not “what” Michigan is, he added, but “why” it is.

“The ‘why’ comes back to Manistique Paper,” Snyder said. “The most important asset in the state of Michigan is not the Great Lakes … it’s the people of the state of Michigan.”

Putting his faith in the people already living in Michigan is part of a plan Snyder had when he first entered office, he explained during an interview following his speech. This plan is what he describes as “economic gardening” – or fostering existing businesses or industries within the state.

“If you think about it, more jobs are not created by companies coming into a state, they’re by people in the state, building their own businesses and being successful,” he explained. “I view it as Michiganders helping one another, and that’s gardening.”

The mill is the poster child for this gardening, Snyder said. By placing focus on how to assist a viable, but suffering industry, the city of Manistique is able to breathe easier these days, he added.

“They’re making great progress, they’ve added workers, they’ve got a good supply base, they’ve got good investors now,” he said. “They’re on a positive path to success.”

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