Snowflake,AZ —On July 30th the communities of the White Mountains of Arizona were put on notice that, Catalyst Paper, Inc., one of the largest employers in the region, intends to permanently close their Snowflake paper mill on September 30, 2012. At stake is a combined total of over 400 jobs to the region. The paper mill, which also operates the Apache Railroad Company, has 307 positions on the chopping block due to the closure. The Snowflake Power biomass plant, which is adjacent to, and inseparably connected with, the paper mill also stands to close their doors because they rely on a large portion of their infrastructure needs, including their property lease, with the mill. The number of jobs supporting the work at Snowflake Power is very close to 100 positions.
The paper mill has been a mainstay of the communities of Snowflake and Taylor in Navajo County for nearly 60 years. Sadly, the communities and families who have been overwhelmed by the news that they now have an economic time-bomb in their midst have less than 60 days to deal with this imminent catastrophe. The clock won’t stop ticking without swift and decisive action by those in the public and private sector, and local leaders need the strength and support of those in Phoenix and Washington.
To put the magnitude of the situation for these White Mountain communities into perspective, the combined loss of the Catalyst Paper Mill, including the Apache Railway and the Snowflake Power biomass plant, would equate to the loss of Intel, Boeing and US Airways in Maricopa County.
The jobs on the table represent the core of the economic engine that keeps a significant section of the White Mountains moving, and it is uncertain how far and how deep the damage will be. What is certain is that the jobs at stake are held by primary bread-winners with an average salary and employee-related expense of $80,000 per job.
The loss of these businesses represents an irreplaceable source of commerce and tax revenue for the communities, school districts and local governments that provide services to the area. Tax revenue from Catalyst for the Snowflake School District was $334,000 dollars for Tax Year 2011. The issue is further compounded by the loss of students as families are forced to relocate.
Bottom line, the loss of this industry will be very devastating to communities and families in the White Mountains. Leaders in the area hope this crisis can be averted through constructive dialogue focusing on finding a solution to save a vital part of the economy of northeast Arizona. The communities of the White Mountains stand to lose their equivalent of Intel, Boeing and US Airways in less than 60 days. Is there any question that those with influence or position to keep those brand names in our state would do anything and everything they needed to do to keep those important industries from leaving Arizona? It is the sincere hope of those grappling with the loss of these 400 jobs that those policy-makers will do the same in this instance.
Fortunately, there have been inquiries by credible buyers who are interested in purchasing the Catalyst mill. Those buyers see an opportunity to carry-on a successful business that continues to create jobs and serve the needs of the community. With the ominous sound of the clock ticking in the background, the rhetorical question that Arizona must ask itself is can it afford to lose 400+ good/high paying jobs at this time in any of its communities?
At this time the White Mountains need the support and leadership of their state and federal representatives to take this issue head-on and find solutions that make sense.
Sincerely and respectfully,
Chairman J.R. DeSpain | Navajo County Board of Supervisors
Supervisor David Tenney | Navajo County Board of Supervisors
Mayor Kelly Willis | Town of Snowflake
Mayor J. Fay Hatch | Town of Taylor