Prospects that at least 80 paper mill jobs will return to Duluth continue to brighten.

A measure that could help revive Verso Corp.'s Duluth paper mill appears well-positioned to be signed into law as part of an omnibus jobs bill.

Committees in both the Minnesota House and Senate now have approved language that would authorize the state to provide up to a $3 million forgivable loan for the conversion of the mill to produce a new type of paper.

“Nothing is a done deal until it’s done. You can’t count your chickens before they hatch, because you never know,” said District 7B Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth. “But we’re in as good a shape as you can be, when something is alive and well in both the House and Senate.”

Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City, agreed, saying, “There’s pretty broad support for it on both sides of the aisle.”

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Any prospective forgivable loan for the Duluth paper mill would require its operator to invest at least $25 million in the facility and continue to employ a minimum of 80 people full time for the next five years.

PREVIOUSLY: Verso to indefinitely idle Duluth paper mill; Duluth mayor hopeful plant will reactivate in some form

Verso had employed more than 220 people, but Olson observed that a mill employing at least 80 people is certainly preferable to an idled plant with no workers. She said the average household income in her district is about $45,000, compared with jobs that pay an average of more than $60,000 at the paper mill.

A Verso Corp. employee moves a stack of logs at the company's Duluth paper mill on the morning of June 18, 2020. (Tyler Schank / News Tribune)
A Verso Corp. employee moves a stack of logs at the company's Duluth paper mill on the morning of June 18, 2020. (Tyler Schank / News Tribune)

Rarick sponsored companion legislation that aligns with what had been approved earlier by a House Committee. He noted that in addition to the people a restarted Duluth mill would employ directly, it would provide still more jobs in logging, transportation and service and supply industries throughout the Northland.

PREVIOUSLY: Faced with Verso closure, mild temperatures, logging industry battles challenging year

Talks between Verso and a prospective buyer, ST Paper, continue, after hitting a rough patch earlier this month.

Sharad Tak, the founder, president and CEO of ST Paper, wrote a letter to lawmakers earlier, thanking them for their support of efforts to get the Duluth mill up and running again.

If ST Paper’s bid to purchase the mill proves successful, the company aims to convert it to produce tissue, instead of the graphic supercalendered paper it churned out until last summer, when Verso announced a shutdown.

Unlike the fickle market for that previous supercalendered product — often used for advertising inserts and catalogs — Tak wrote: “The demand for tissue paper is strong and immutable.”

ST Paper has successfully converted other mills to tissue paper production in Oconto Falls, Wisconsin, and Franklin, Virginia.