Deb Heinen said she couldn't help but shed a few tears as she put the final printing plate on the press Friday afternoon. This was to be the last time the plant, at 4305 Airpark Boulevard, would print the News Tribune or any other paper in Duluth. In all, about 18,000 copies rolled off of the press in its farewell run.
She carefully scrutinized pages fresh off the press for color quality and registration, before offering her nod of approval.
"Looks good," Heinen said.
"I loved this job," she said, reflecting on her seven years working in the printing industry for Forum Communications Co.
At another station, Steve Raskovich noted that this is the fifth press he has said farewell to in a 49-year career as a pressman. He came to work at Forum's Duluth plant eight years ago, after Superior Publishing Co. closed its Hibbing printing plant.
"I've been in this business since the beginning. I've seen it all: letter press, offset, digital. Guess I'm what you'd call a dinosaur," said Raskovich, noting that this was likely the final chapter of his career in the printing industry, where jobs have grown ever more scarce.
Dale Garthus said he's worked as a mailer for the News Tribune for 34 years, after landing the job as a teenager.
Most of all, Garthus said he'll miss his co-workers.
"It's a sad day. I'm going to miss all my friends here," he said. "I've probably spent more time with these guys than my own family."
Tim Swanson, another mailer, chimed in, saying that after 33 years on the job, he, too, had the same regret: "I'm going to miss all my buddies."
Garthus counts himself lucky to have already lined up new employment at Overhead Door Co. of Duluth, another Airpark business just down the road from the printing plant.
Park Grandson, a platemaker who has worked in prepress for the News Tribune for 13 years, said he had anticipated Forum's announcement that it would be closing the print plant in Duluth, after an initial round of layoffs last year.
"It wasn't surprising whatsoever," Grandson said, noting that he saw the writing on the wall, when the News Tribune reduced its print publication cycle from seven to two times a week in July 2020. The paper still publishes seven days a week online.
"It's sad. But I think I'm ready for something new. So, in that sense, it's not all bad," he said.
The closure of the Duluth printing plant will result in the loss of one part-time and 20 full-time jobs. It also marks the end of an era, as the paper and its predecessor publications have been printed in Duluth since 1869. The Superior Telegram and Cloquet Pine Journal were also printed at the facility.
The News Tribune moved its printing operations from downtown Duluth to a new Airpark facility in 2012, also investing about $2.7 million into a new state-of-the-art press. The 29,155-square-foot building will be offered for lease now that printing operations there have ceased.
News Tribune Publisher Neal Ronquist said, “The decision to close our Duluth facility was certainly not an easy one. I appreciate the dedication and professionalism of our excellent production team members. They consistently delivered a quality product on time. Their commitment to our customers, and our business, was readily apparent each and every day. I thank them and wish them best of luck with their future endeavors. Their new employers will be fortunate to gain such hard workers.”
Going forward, the News Tribune, Telegram and Pine Journal will be printed in Brainerd, as part of a Forum Communications Co. effort to consolidate operations and improve efficiency. Ronquist said readers shouldn’t notice any changes in delivery or the content of the print product, as news and sports deadlines will remain essentially the same.
Forum Communications intends to retain four printing facilities. In addition to the Brainerd operation, the company also will sustain printing plants in Detroit Lakes; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Fargo, North Dakota.
Editor's note: This story was updated on Monday, April 5 at 9:50 a.m. to note that the Superior Telegram and Cloquet Pine Journal were also printed at the Duluth facility and now will be printed in Brainerd.