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Workers glad of Beaver Falls mill’s recovery

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BEAVER FALLS — It’s more than a 10th anniversary for Omniafiltra, a papermaking mill in Beaver Falls. It’s a celebration of rebirth, growth and success in a historically struggling industry.

In February 1999, more than 100 people lost their jobs when FiberMark shut down operations at the location as a cost-cutting measure.

“My heart was broken,” said Scott C. Sauer, who was employed at the mill at the time. Today, he’s the mill manager, but said it’s more than a job for him.

His passion for the mill and its employees was evident as he walked through, greeting fellow employees and explaining the machinery.

“We’re lucky. We’re lucky we have this and it didn’t end up like the Newton Falls plant,” he said.

Since closing, the Newton Falls facility has been stripped of its machinery, leaving little hope of its ever reopening.

In contrast, Mr. Sauer credited FiberMark with keeping Charles E. Marolf on staff, keeping the building here heated and in good condition for the possibility of a return to production.

“Oh, it was lonely,” recalled Mr. Marolf, who for more than two years was the sole employee.

In December 2001, LTX Fibre Corp. bought the 125,000-square-foot mill from FiberMark.

There was a glimmer of hope for the mill’s resurrection, but it was short lived. Within months the mill was closed again.

The building sat empty again, except for Mr. Marolf.

The second vacancy of the site was longer. Any customers had long since found other suppliers and former employees had found other jobs.

Mr. Sauer was then working at Climax Manufacturing when he learned the property had been sold, again.

It was a risky move in 2003, but he left Climax to manage new operations at Omniafiltra, an Italian-owned company.

“We had no orders, no previous customers,” he said.

Mr. Sauer remembered giving the plant about a 50-50 chance of surviving the first year.

Not only did it survive; it’s grown.

From the original returning crew of nine employees, the mill now employs 37.

“We believe and understand our survival was and continues to be directly proportional to the quality of the will of our employees to collectively act as one, “ Mr. Sauer said. “There’s no such thing as ‘my job’ or ‘your job’.”

As the employees mark their 10th year this week, they will re-enact the first paper run 10 years ago when the first piece was ripped off and signed by the nine employees. This time, there will be 37 signatures.

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