The Catalyst Paper Mill in Rumford in 2017. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

RUMFORD — Catalyst Paper announced Friday that it plans to sell the Rumford paper mill and one other mill in Wisconsin to a subsidiary of Nine Dragons Paper for $175 million.

Nine Dragons, which is traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and has production facilities in China, described itself in a press release as “the largest containerboard producer in China and Asia and a leading paper product manufacturer globally.”

Catalyst has owned the Rumford mill for three years and employs approximately 620 people there. A spokeswoman for Nine Dragons Paper said no layoffs are planned.

“Our focus right now is on continuing business as usual,” said Michele Landry. “The company’s vision is for these mills to thrive and produce high-quality products.”

Gov. Paul LePage tweeted Friday that he was happy to welcome Nine Dragons Paper’s investment.

“I met them earlier this month, and I believe this will be the beginning of a strong relationship that will benefit Maine’s people, economy and our paper and forest products industry for years to come,” he wrote.

Catalyst, which is based in British Columbia, said the sale to ND Paper will allow it to repay outstanding debt and focus on its Canadian operations. In its press release, ND Paper said the sale will diversify Nine Dragons’ manufacturing base and give it “access to high-quality virgin fiber, resulting in increased access to a more secure and cost-effective channel for raw material supply.”

An operations center in Dayton, Ohio, is also included in the sales agreement.

A press release from Catalyst thanked employees and stated “their hard work and dedication have vastly improved these operations.”

“We’re proud of what our employees have accomplished at the Biron (Wisconsin) and Rumford mills and the Dayton operations center. Despite these improvements, Catalyst has made the business decision to sell these assets.”

ND Paper said investment and expansion in the Rumford mill would be coming: “The acquisition and future capital investment in growing the mills’ capabilities in high growth packaging paper and pulp products will help invigorate the local Wisconsin and Maine economies, allowing them to stay competitive and prosper in the global market.”

“We are very pleased to welcome the Rumford and Biron mills to the Nine Dragons family,” Yan Cheung, Nine Dragons’ chairwoman, said in a statement.

“We are committed to making these mills more competitive on a global scale, while staying true to our core values as an environmentally friendly and socially responsible enterprise with utmost respect for our employees. We look forward to working with the teams and communities in Maine and Wisconsin as we embark on this next phase of expansion together,” the statement read.

According to financial media company Forbes, the chairwoman and her family are among China’s wealthiest people. Cheung is worth $2.1 billion, according to Forbes, which also assesses her husband, Liu Ming Chung, the company’s CEO, as a billionaire. Cheung’s younger brother, Zhang Cheng Fei, is the deputy CEO of Nine Dragons, and also a billionaire.

The sale is expected to close at the end of the second quarter.

Landry said no specific investments had been targeted yet.

“We will be evaluating the strengths and capabilities of the mills in order to make the appropriate investments to enhance the mills’ competitiveness globally,” she said.

On Friday, Rumford Town Manager Linda-Jean Briggs said she had heard rumors about a company coming to visit the mill, and had been told by Catalyst the rumors weren’t true. Her initial reaction to hearing news of the sale was “disappointed.”

“Having been through a number of mergers in a previous career, now I understand why I was told it wasn’t true, because during negotiations, there is a no-discussion clause, generally,” she said.

“I hope Nine Dragons Paper will be an asset to the community of Rumford. I look forward to meeting with them and strategizing how we can work together.”

Catalyst said the sale to ND Paper will allow it to repay outstanding debt and focus on its Canadian operations.

Five paper mills in Maine have closed since 2014.

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