Sunday, May 17, 2009

The mill reopens

Life is good in Ontonagon County once again: The Smurfit-Stone paper mill, the county's largest employer, reopens May 26, almost six months after it shut down last November. Hundreds of people are going back to work, not only at the mill but also its suppliers, such as pulpwood loggers, truckers and railroaders that carry the huge rolls of brown paper south to be spun into corrugated cardboard boxes.

When the news broke Friday night, all of this western Upper Michigan region breathed a sigh of relief. It had been a damned close run thing, this encounter with the deepest recession in decades. Workers were looking at the end of their unemployment insurance. People had no money to spend, and the local merchants were being pinched to the limit. Everyone stayed home and the town looked dead.

In town yesterday, the happy buzz was palpable. Folks at Chapman's Ace hardware store and Pat's Supermarket were smiling again. One customer at Chapman's said, "Now I can pay with my credit card again!" as he slapped down the plastic. The oldsters around the coffee table at Pat's beamed at the good fortune of the younger shoppers.

Is the recession finally beginning to lift? Not for everybody. The same day the reopening of the mill was announced, the little Chevy/Buick dealership received the dreaded Fedex letter from General Motors: It was being cut loose as GM reorganized. The dealership probably will survive as a used car emporium, but several of its workers will lose their jobs.

All the same, things are looking up at last for Ontonagon County, the real-life counterpart of the Porcupine County of my mystery novels.

As for the Lady Friend and me, life is good at the Writer's Lair west of town. Yesterday these items went into our birdspotting book: Two sparrows of indeterminate species, one purple finch, one chickadee, two bald eagles, 17 male mallards in an enormous boy's-night-out flock while the females nestled on the eggs, a number of crows, one unidentifiable hawk, one sandpiper and two breeding pairs of Canada geese, one with three goslings and the other with four.

Yesterday was so cold and windy (38 degrees, 40 knots) with such high waves that the geese-plus-four-goslings from up Halfway Creek nearby walked across our front yard to get to the free cracked corn at our neighbor's instead of steaming in line astern 200 yards offshore, as they usually do.

That's the sextet in the photo above. The fourth gosling is almost hidden against the rear of the trailing adult goose. Click on the picture for a better view.


  1. Even my residents at Long Term are excited about the mill reopening. It's a huge relief to us all. A few of my coworkers were thinking they would have to move out of the area if their spouses didn't get called back or couldn't find work somewhere else here. It was starting to feel like when the mine would close and reopen and close and the cycle would go round and round. Hopefully this isn't the beginning of that.

  2. Does this mean the recession is waning?


  3. Maybe it has hit bottom and has begun the long slow climb back up. Maybe not. We won't know for a year or so.