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Western Excelsior workers, town look toward uncertain future

On Monday afternoon, Mancos resident Jonathan Sam went home to see part of his livelihood up in flames.

Sam worked at Western Excelsior Corp. in Mancos as a machine operator for two years before the mill was destroyed in a catastrophic fire this week.

“I was standing there like, ‘Man, there goes my job,’” Sam said on Wednesday. “It was shocking.”

Sam lives in the trailer park across the street from the mill. He said working at the company was fun and kept him busy. Sam’s father also worked at the mill.

The job helped Sam provide for his six children. Now out of work and with a seventh child on the way, he’s struggling to pay the bills.

He’s looking for a new job, and waiting to see what happens.

“We’ll keep moving on,” Sam said.

Like Sam, Marilyn Haun wasn’t the only person in her family who worked at Western Excelsior. Haun’s son worked the night shift at the mill, she said.

Haun lives in the same trailer park across the street on Grand Avenue. She worked as a laborer and operator for seven years.

Haun said the hours were long, but she liked the job and enjoyed walking to work from home.

Haun said she’s sad and will miss her coworkers.

“I can’t believe that it spread so fast,” she said.

She also worries about making ends meet, but said she’ll figure it out.

Company representatives told workers to file for unemployment, Haun said.

“Life goes on,” she said.

Western Excelsior marketing representative Alex Abbott said Wednesday that company representatives are working with employees in Mancos to care for them as best they can.

A call to company President Zach Snyder, was not returned on Wednesday.

A representative from the Colorado Workforce Center was set up at the Mancos Public Library this week to help Western Excelsior Employees file for unemployment. Library Director Lee Hallberg said on Wednesday that a steady flow of people had come to the library to seek unemployment help.

Western Excelsior processes curled wood shavings, also known as excelsior, as well as other erosion control, sediment control and mulch products. The company started in 1977. It maintains another facility in Macon, Georgia, and the corporate offices are located in Evansville, Indiana.

Other company locations include Centre, Alabama, Middlesex, North Carolina and Poseyville, Indiana.

The main production facility, offices and storage areas at the company’s Mancos facility were destroyed in a fire that started just before 1 p.m. Monday.

The site was still smoldering on Wednesday.

A company employee who wished to remain anonymous told The Journal on Wednesday that Western Excelsior plans to stay in Mancos and rebuild the facility.

The employee said they are working on setting up temporary offices on the Mancos site. An outbuilding that was not affected by the fire will be connected to power, and it will be converted to a temporary production facility, the employee said.

The building was a total loss, with damage estimated in the millions of dollars, the employee said. It could be six to eight months or more before the company gets the Mancos facility up and running again.

Western Excelsior’s Mancos facility contributed millions to the local economy, according to a report from Region 9 Economic Development.

In 2015, the company employed about 100 workers in Montezuma County, and about 42 percent of them live in Mancos, the report states. Western Excelsior jobs represented about 14 percent of jobs in the town.

“They are a huge part of our community,” Mancos Town Clerk Heather Alvarez said.

The company contributed about $3.7 million to the local economy, according to Region 9. That includes direct contributions, such as payroll and purchases of goods and services from local vendors. The amount also includes indirect and secondary contributions, such as jobs and income created when the company works with other local businesses.

In addition to its Montezuma County workforce, Western Excelsior employed 50 people in the Four Corners area with a total 2015 payroll of more than $3.2 million in that area, according to the report.

Spending by company employees creates a “ripple effect” that supports another 11 jobs, such as restaurant servers, doctors, supermarket clerks and other workers, according to Region 9.

The company’s operational expenses were estimated at about $2.4 million in 2015, according to the report. Through October 2015, the company had paid about $70,000 in Montezuma County taxes.

As the largest employer in the Town of Mancos, the company’s temporary closing could have a significant effect on the town, Mancos Valley Chamber of Commerce Administrator Marie Chiarizia said.

“It could have a long-term impact on the economic vitality of the town,” she said.

The company interacts with the community in more ways than just employing Mancos residents, including distributing firewood for those who need it.

Although the fire was devastating, it’s good that no one was hurt, Chiarizia said. She was confident that the company and the town would be able to recover.

“The town has been hit with fire in the last few years, but it bounces back,” she said.

“It’s very resilient.”

jacobk@the-journal.com

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