Bay County Commissioners hold meeting over paper mill closure

Published: Apr. 11, 2022 at 10:40 PM CDT
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BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - A community that’s picked up from Hurricane Michael, the pandemic, and wildfires, now faces another challenge. The closing of the Panama City Paper Mill left hundreds of people without jobs.

Westrock Company officials announced last Thursday that approximately 450 employees working at the mill will be let go when it closes on June 6th. Now, Bay County Commissioners held an emergency meeting this evening to discuss ways to help those who will find themselves without a job.

The news of the paper mill has workers wondering how they’ll keep a roof over their heads or food on the tables.

“My husband Brian works at the Mill and has for eight years. We moved our whole family here from north Alabama for this job,” Panama City Beach resident Ashley Hough said.

“I’ve given six and a half years of my life to this mill and 14 to training in Florida. I don’t look to leave this area,” Panama City resident Michael Paul said.

Many in the area know the mill has been a generational company.

“You go out there even now and there’s great-grandchildren, grandchildren, it’s been a family legacy,” Panama City resident Tim Fontaine said.

A legacy of mill workers that’s been a driving force to the local economy for decades, until now.

“We’ve been through a lot. This is just another challenge for us to face. It’s going to be tough, but I think we can get through it with everyone working together,” Bay County Commissioner Griff Griffitts said.

Local leadership is working together to make sure one thing comes from this upset.

“I think I speak for all of our commissioners, and our staff, the general (public), that we will do anything that we can to make sure that something good comes out of this,” Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki said.

County officials say it’s important to keep those displaced in Bay County because it’s their home.

“Most of them are born and raised here. They need to have that opportunity as we continue to grow, that they have an opportunity to stay in Bay County. They shouldn’t have to leave because their employer decided to close down their facility,” Bay County Commission Chairman Robert Carroll said.

While many know the paper mill for the smell, locals often refer to that as the smell of money. Something that’s hoped to be a priority moving forward.

“This leadership team is very proactive in finding jobs for these employees and again that is our number one focus is keeping them in our community and keeping them employed,” Bay Economic Development Alliance President Becca Hardin said.

A community working together to make sure everyone is employed during these hard times.

Officials say the county, Bay County Sheriff’s Office, Bay District School board, Trane Manufacturing, Panama City Port, Eastern Shipbuilding, Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, and individual cities have job openings.

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