Duluth will retain the services of a consulting firm at least a while longer in hopes that it can find a new owner for the Verso paper mill, which has been idled since summer.
On Wednesday night, the Duluth Economic Development Authority unanimously approved spending up to $40,000 more to extend a contract with Baker Tilly Municipal Advisors LLC, increasing the maximum total payout the firm could receive to as much as $99,610.
Chris Fleege, director of Duluth's planning and economic development department, explained that Baker Tilly originally was initially
hired to help the city identify various incentives that could be used to help revive the paper mill, which employed more than 220 when it was in operation.
"We anticipated their services would kind of run through October, but as we got into it, they've been more involved in ... working with an entity that is interested in the mill. And there's been a lot of follow-up. So, this really just funds Baker Tilly through the next couple months as we try to bring this one home to a successful outcome," Fleege told DEDA commissioners.
"They've been very helpful in many aspects that I hope to be able to elaborate on maybe as early as next month. But at this point, I can't share a whole lot, other than they've been doing exceptional work and are really providing a lot of value to DEDA and to the process, and I've heard that multiple times from multiple parties," he said.
Fleege acknowledged the process of finding a new buyer has taken longer than hoped. Efforts have focused on converting the plant from the production of graphic supercalendered paper to the manufacture of brown kraft papers that frequently go into grocery bags and various types of packaging.
"I think if you were to talk to Verso, they would have liked to have sold this mill probably two months ago. But when you get into these deals, it just takes longer. There's just a lot of due diligence that goes on," Fleege explained.
He told DEDA commissioners he did not anticipate requesting any further funds for Baker Tilly beyond those approved Wednesday.
Fleege said he would provide a more detailed account of the consultant's activities "when more can be shared publicly."
"I'd be happy to do that, because I do think it was a sound investment, and I think you'll understand why when we have everything put together."