Editorial: Momentous Events Bring a Community Together

Momentous events bring a community together. Good or bad, joyous or tragic, they are the ties that bind, that make all of us one.

Late last summer, Schoolcraft County experienced the dark side of those ties with the shocking news that the area’s oldest manufacturer, an institution, a cornerstone of the business community and the wider community at large, was shutting down and filing for bankruptcy protection. The news stunned us and left us sharing a sense of confusion and loss, uncertainty and fear.

Now, just eight short months after those bleak and terrible days, we find ourselves celebrating the successful resolution of that story – a resolution that once seemed unlikely, even impossible, but that was brought about through the dedicated and painstaking efforts of many different individuals and organizations.

This moment eventually will pass. It’s inevitable. The feelings of excitement and triumph will gradually fade and a sense of normality will return. The community will slowly get back to business as usual, while the new owners of Manistique Papers, the mill’s management team and its employees will all settle down to navigate the long and difficult road ahead, striving for financial stability and profitability, deepening and strengthening the company’s niche in the volatile and competitive paper industry.

But before the euphoria completely passes away, we must take a few minutes to express our appreciation, to say thank you from the people of a grateful community to the people who brought about this resolution.

Those of us on the outside will never fully understand everything that took place over the past eight months, all of the work that went on behind the scenes to turn a doomsday scenario into a rebirth. We do, however, understand that it took a vast, coordinated effort. This was not a matter of a few phone calls, a handful of meetings, and some signatures on a dotted line. This was thousands of hours of work by dozens of people, with high points and low points and points where it looked as if all would be lost. Through it all they soldiered on, determined to achieve what many thought could not be done.

First and foremost, thanks to the MPI managers and employees, who could have done what others did and merely walk away from a bad situation. Instead they stayed, dug in their heels, rolled up their sleeves, and continued to fight for their company, the company they believed in, demonstrating a willingness to change and adjust and sacrifice, putting the good of the firm and the good of the community above their own self-interest.

Thanks, too, to the officials at mBank who stepped up immediately, in those earliest days when everything was at its darkest, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, who soon joined the fight. These people pulled off a great thing in the face of steep odds, doing what some said was impossible and others suggested was not even worth the effort, and they did it not for good PR or political brownie points. They did it because it was the right thing to do, because they understood that MPI could not be allowed to simply sit empty and die, or worse, get chopped up by the liquidator’s axe and auctioned off. They understood that the rescue of the mill was an issue of critical importance for the company and its workforce, for the community, for the state. They understood that failure was not an option, that survival must be secured.

We also offer thanks to the Watermill Group, the mill’s new owners. They saw opportunity where others saw failure, and forged ahead to do the deal against some awfully steep odds. We are encouraged by their faith in Manistique Papers and excited by the potential of the arrangement, the leadership that Watermill will bring, the powerful synergies that will be created by MPI’s new “sister company” relationship with FutureMark, and the prospects for stability and growth in the years ahead. We welcome Watermill as the newest members of our small but tight-knit community, and thank them again for helping assure that 92 years was not the end of the MPI story but merely the beginning of the next chapter.

Of course there are many others who also deserve a thank-you, unsung heroes all. From the average Schoolcraft County residents who watched and waited and prayed and never gave up hope to the local and state officials who did everything in their power to help turn tragedy to triumph, working off the record, on the record, and every way imaginable, from the first seconds of the situation last August to the 11th hour just two weeks ago.

These past eight months have been a wake-up call, a sobering lesson. They have shown us just how important our businesses, industries, organizations and other pillars of the community truly are, how much they mean to the people of Schoolcraft County and beyond. They’ve also taught us that success can be fragile and good fortune fleeting, that too often we take for granted the things we rely on most, and that everything we thought we knew can change overnight, vanishing in the blink of an eye.

Now it’s time to change our focus, to stop looking back and start looking ahead to the long days and weeks, months and years to come. Many challenges remain, and there will most assuredly be new hurdles and setbacks to surmount. But we can face those things with renewed vitality, thanks to everyone we mentioned above. We owe them a tremendous debt for what they have done and wish them the best of luck as they prepare to take on the challenges of operating in these uncertain economic times.

Momentous events bring a community together, and like any trial by fire, make us stronger than we were before. We go forward from here with a tougher, healthier Manistique Papers, a sturdier and sounder Schoolcraft County, and a much-needed reminder that good people armed with courage and conviction can accomplish great things.

This article was originally published by Manistique Pioneer Tribune.

May 18, 2012