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Potsdam Specialty Paper celebrated at Chamber dinner

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POTSDAM — Potsdam Specialty Paper was given the Business of the Year award at the annual St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce dinner, where the retirement of Executive Director Patricia L. McKeown was also announced.

Thursday’s annual dinner at SUNY Potsdam — attended by about 200 people — was Ms. McKeown’s last as executive director, President Ryan P. Deuel said. Her last day of work will be May 23.

The Chamber also awarded Commitment to Community awards to St. Lawrence NYSARC and William E. Dashnaw, and its Volunteer of the Year Award to Susan Gibbons. The origins of Potsdam Specialty Paper date to a mill built in 1892 by Racquette River Paper Co. under owner George W. Sisson.

“Tucked in Unionville, they’re rarely heard about but their impact on the St. Lawrence County economy is substantial,” said Angela M. Gray, who made the award presentation. “They’re a small-town manufacturer that competes globally.”

The mill of 80 employees produces masking tape base, special papers used in decoration — such as wallpaper base — medical paper, and high-end packaging, a market that is successful because it has a niche, General Manager Ronald F. Charette said.

“I think the success of the paper industry in the north country is just that,” he said. “We’ve had 80 people since 2008. It’s pretty stable. Pretty much everybody who runs the mill is at the mill. The days of having managers who just manage people are gone.”

The plant’s success is because of its team of employees, he said.

“It’s not just my efforts,” Mr. Charette said. “It’s the efforts of everyone.”

The mill was purchased in 1998 by the Mead Corp., which modernized it. In 2008, a group of investors purchased the plant, establishing it as Potsdam Specialty Paper.

The company has invested $1.3 million in its plant with an eye toward environmental safeguards that extend beyond a single program.

“It’s just the way they do business,” Ms. Gray said.

Potsdam Specialty Paper was awarded the Advancement in Cleaner Production Award from the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute of Rochester in August.

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