Whakatāne’s packaging mill, one of the town’s biggest employers, may yet be saved from imminent closure. The mill’s Swiss owner SIG has announced that a consortium led by Dr Dermot Smurfit, a European investor with long experience in paper packaging, is in talks with it to buy the mill.
“A successful sale may result in the continued operation of WML. However, negotiations are ongoing and, until such time as an agreement is signed, no further comment will be made by either party,” SIG continued. It’s understood that two parties have been doing due diligence on the mill, one a local company, after SIG announced in March that it had lost its main client and was closing in June.
According to the Irish Times, Smurfit’s father Jefferson was an early owner of what is now cardboard box-making giant Smurfit Kappa Group. SIG said at the time that it had been trying to find a new owner for two years without success.
Behind the scenes, NZ government agencies, local MPS and the council have been working for months to save the business and keep its 210 skilled staff in the region. The mill’s prospective closure comes at a sensitive time for the wood processing industry, as mills struggle with high power prices and to compete for logs at high export prices.