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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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North Woods Flooring Has Impact On Other Businesses

“I like the small town atmosphere...I like to think people here were raised right, that they’re just happier working,” Tom Bieberitz, owner of the North Woods Flooring, Inc. factory in Coleman, told Marinette County Board’s Economic Development Committee recently.

The committee’s regular monthly meeting Monday, Aug. 17 began with a tour of the Coleman facility personally conducted by Bieberitz.

The committee has been focusing on various businesses and visiting different communities in the county in local months. In July they met in Crivitz, and in June they met in Marinette and then visited the Marth Peshtigo Pellet Company factory in Peshtigo, after hearing a report by Marth manager T. J. Morice on the pellet heating fuel industry. They had met in Peshtigo City Hall in May.

In September they will meet at Equity Hall in Grover and then tour the Lepianka farm for a look at the agri-business industry.

At the meeting, committee members received copies of the recently completed re-use study for the 1,300-acre property of the former Niagara paper mill. The committee approved sending the report to Marinette County Board on Tuesday, Aug. 25. Clewley said 20 people had attended a re-use meeting in Niagara on Friday, Aug. 14. He described the plan as, “A marketing tool that gives them a target of who to market to, among other things.” The full report is available on the official Marinette county web site.

Bieberitz, who began his thriving hardwood floor manufacturing business in the former N.E.W. Plastics factory at the corner of old Hwy. 141 and County B in 2005, said his business philosophy is, “Make the best product that you can, and take care of your customers.” He said he himself was raised to work hard, and having worked on both the production and sales end of the hardwood flooring business has no problem “being on the same page” with his employees.

Even as the meeting was in progress, work was underway next door on a new gym floor for Coleman High School. Bieberitz was praised by Village President Glenn Woulf for donating the hardwood for the gym floor project, and in the mill packages of tongue and groove hardwood destined for the local floor were ready and waiting.

“We like to give something back to the community,” Bieberitz commented. He added the school will be a good showcase for their product.

Bieberitz said he buys all his lumber already dried, and maintains a small “just in time” inventory to fill the needs of his customers. They handle 13 species of wood, with three grades of each. The grade differences refer to color, not to quality, Bieberitz said, explaining that grade 1 hardwoods are nearly white, with minimal grains and markings, while grades 2 and 3 have increasing amounts of color and grain pattern. The boards generally are 3/4” thick, and cut into varying widths as requested. Today, more people want their floors made up of wider boards.

There is almost no waste. As the boards move through the various sawing stages from rough board to finished pieces of matched-grade tongue and groove flooring they are carefully inspected for defects, which are cut out. End pieces are cut off as well, and those scraps, along with trimmings as necessary, go via conveyor to be ground into sawdust. Bieberitz said three or four truckloads per day of sawdust is shipped to a Peshtigo manufacturing firm to be made into wood pellets that ultimately will be used as heating fuel.

When Bieberitz started his business in 2005 he received some assistance by way of a loan from a $200,000 Community Development Block Grant which came through Marinette County Association for Business and Industry (MCABI) with the help of Administrative Director Don Clewley.

George Bousley, who chairs both County Board and the Economic Development Committee, and is also Mayor of Niagara, commented on the impact one business has on others in the county, “all the way down.” The flooring mill in Coleman provides employment for truck drivers throughout the county, loggers in the north, and sends its scrap material to the pellet mill in Peshtigo, which helps make that business thrive.

Clewley agreed, “It’s all part of the supply chain...It’s amazing how many people he keeps working.”

Bousley told Woulf the factory gives Coleman “a very good centerpiece,” and Woulf agreed. He added that Bieberitz is, “very, very good to his employees and they really like working for him.”

Ken Casper heartily agreed. They commented on various parties, picnics and other events the firm sponsors for employees, their spouses and their children.

UWEX Resource Development Agent Paul Putnam observed that North Woods employees are very proud of what they produce, “it’s quality all the way.”

Turning to other discussion, Woulf said the community was fortunate that the Tourism Alliance met there the previous week, and now the Economic Development Committee was there. “Things are happening, it’s not all negative any more,” he added. Coleman suffered the loss of N.E.W. Plastics and the Friday Canning factory a few years ago, and then was by-passed by Hwy. 141.

Woulf said his big concern right now is what will happen with the mile of County B that serves as the village’s Main Street.

“I’m just hoping something will be done so we get our Main Street fixed,” Woulf declared, adding the village had been awarded $180,000 in STP funds for Phase 1 of a County B reconstruction project, which is the planning phase, “but it doesn’t do us much good if we don’t get Phases II and III.” The village would have to pay 10 percent of the plan costs, the county 10 percent, and the remainder would come from STP funds. But that would be for plans only. So far, there is no money for actual construction.

Bousley suggested setting up a meeting for a discussion on funding and construction possibilities between himself, Woulf, Casper, County Administrator Steve Corbeille and County Public Works Director Mark Desotell. He does not think stimulus funds will be available for the project.

Woulf expressed thanks to Putnam for the work he has been doing with the village on planning and economic development efforts, commenting, “Paul (Putnam) does a good job...he steers us the right way.”

Putnam said he has been meeting with people in Coleman for about a year. Many people have dropped out, but now they have a small but very effective group involved. He said the Lions Club is the best example of things getting done, and mentioned their work on a new gazebo, community beautification, and a bigger and better welcome center for the village. He noted Woulf and School Board President Ted Verges are both extremely active in the efforts.

Clewley reported that David Ward, at a steering committee meeting for the Regional Innovation Grant held Thursday, Aug. 13 in Marquette, Mich., presented an “almost final draft” of the study and suggested ways in which it can be used to build for the future. Committee members were authorized to attend the Upper Great Lakes Economic and Workforce Development Summit meeting Sept. 16 in Marquette at which the study will be launched. Clewley said it is a philosophy on ways in which the Upper Peninsula and adjoining counties in Wisconsin should be collaborating.

Bousley suggested they might get federal dollars to start something if they create some sort of enterprise zone from Menominee to Ironwood, Mich. that would take in Marinette County as well. Members were also authorized to attend the Wisconsin Economic Development Association (WEDA) fall conference in Eau Claire Sept. 23 through 25. It will be a busy time. The Wisconsin Counties Association annual convention will be held in LaCrosse Sept. 13, 14 and 15.

Clewley reported cooperation between Upper Peninsula and counties in northern Wisconsin has been growing and gaining acceptance. This year for the first time Niagara and Iron Mountain schools will begin sharing teachers and certain facilities. Michigan’s Governor Barbara Granholm had just that day signed a bill into law that makes the collaboration across state lines possible, at least from the Michigan standpoint.

He added that Rep. Bart Stupak of Menominee (along with Wisconsin Sen. Steve Kagen), “has been a powerful advocate in Washington for Marinette Marine.”

The committee digressed briefly for a few disapproving comments on the proposed 1,800-page federal health care bill that Supervisor Vilas Schroeder described as, “a moving target” after the discussion was initiated by Supervisor Nick Lakari, who was upset over lack of response from Kagen to some of his questions concerning the controversial bill.

Of the Niagara mill re-use study, Clewley said many changes were observed at the site. NewPage Corporation officially closed the mill in August, 2008, putting more than 300 people out of work.

NewPage owns 500 acres of land in Wisconsin and 800 acres in Michigan, which includes the Niagara landfill and the 500 acres governed by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rules because of the power dam. The power facilities have been sold and is producing electricity.

Clewley described the mill property as “really nice land,” and said the goal is to find several compatible “value added” industries to locate on it. He said there is still the possibility a “tire grinding” company will locate there. A related “wood basket” study of available forest product resources also is almost done, Clewley said. That also will be a marketing tool. Clewley added he cannot comment on some things, but “we are working with a number of companies that are interested in developing the property.”

Past reports have mentioned interest from at least one firm interested in producing “gasohol” from wood chips that once were forest product wastes, but Clewley made no specific mention of that on Monday.

There is to be discussion of the report at the Niagara City Council meeting Wednesday evening, Aug. 19.

Bousley praised Clewley’s work and commented without MCABI over the last decade, “Marinette county would be a lot worse off than we are today.”

The committee voted unanimously in favor of a resolution supporting the idea of “Broadband” service throughout Marinette County and recommended approval by Marinette County Board. Putnam explained it does not endorse any specific private business, and at least three companies are interested in providing the service. There are grants available to private business, but they need the blessings of the county and will need to act fast to get them.

Putnam and Clewley both commented on failure of stimulus money to get into economic development areas where it would do the most good. Putnam commented banks are sitting on the money instead of financing new ventures, and Clewley said they are using the money to shore up their own capital structures.

Meanwhile, both expressed disappointment that the states are using the so-called recovery dollars to balance their budgets instead of doing things to help the economic recovery.

“It’s a shell game...stimulus dollars are being redirected to community aids,” Clewley declared. “We’ve really seen very little stimulus money getting into economic development.”

There was brief talk and disgust about some Wisconsin employees being indiscriminately required to take unpaid “furlough days” on a Friday, and then collecting time and a half for doing on Saturday what they would otherwise have been doing on Friday for regular pay.


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