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'We were shocked': Camas community reacts to paper mill layoffs

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said the news "was a bigger blow than we anticipated."

CAMAS, Wash. -- It’s known to many that those from Camas are called the “papermakers.”

The unique name serves as the high school mascot, a tribute to the long-running paper mill in the city.

But that identity took a big hit this week when the company that owns the paper mill announced it was planning on cutting up to 300 jobs.

By the end of 2018, roughly 130 positions will remain. It’s a far cry from the mill’s heyday when thousands were employed there.

Background: Camas paper mill to eliminate 280-300 jobs

Georgia Pacific, the company that owns the mill, blamed the layoffs on a "continued decline in demand for communication papers." While operations related to communications papers will stop, the mill will continue to make paper towels.

“We were shocked,” said Camas Mayor Scott Higgins. “It’s just sad news for the community.”

Higgins and others in Camas have said that the layoffs didn’t come as a complete surprise, however. It’s not the first time layoffs have occurred at the mill.

“That change has been happening. But this was a bigger blow than we anticipated,” Higgins said.

While close to 300 people will be looking for new jobs, Higgins said that the city’s economy will remain healthy in the long term. Higgins pointed out that Camas has diversified its economy over time and the mill is no longer one of the largest employers in town.

By no means does that soften the blow to affected families, though.

“There’s a lot of anxiety. There’s a lot of stuff that still has to be sorted out between the leadership and the local leadership of the mill,” said Bill Spring, a veteran employee who first started working at the mill in 1987.

Spring is currently on long-term leave from the mill as he serves in a leadership role with the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, the union that represents mill employees.

“Imagine if you had been working somewhere for a long term and had put in the time and energy, all that, then not knowing if you’re going to have a job tomorrow,” Spring said. “And you’re not ready to retire yet. Because that’s where a lot of those folks are at.”

Some Camas stores are wondering what the layoffs will mean for business. Jessica Ackley, who works at a Chevron gas station by the mill, says 75 percent of the station’s morning business is from mill workers.

“Some of these guys have worked there 30 years, their entire lives. It’s all they’ve known. It’s troubling,” she said. Ackley believes the station will lose some business because of the layoffs.

While the Camas economy may survive in the long run, the job losses remain emotionally tough for the city.

“What it really is more a blow to is our psychology. This is what defines us,” Higgins said. “These are good jobs that our town was built on. The only reason we’re a city is because of the mill.”

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