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LETTER: Think outside of the box to save match mill

The community of Cloquet and Carlton County just suffered a huge economic blow with the pending closure of the Diamond Match (aka Jarden Brands) facility. Eighty-five direct jobs are affected by the proposed closing. However, the true effect may go far beyond this number, perhaps involving 340 people, when assuming a family of four. In addition, spinoff jobs and careers such as loggers, landowners selling stumpage, foresters, mechanics who keep a mill running, etc., are also affected. Then there are the businesses such as pharmacies, grocery stores, hardware stores, hospitals, banks, and other business entities that rely on consumer presence.

So, what might be a reasonable long-term solution to address the issues that affect the Diamond Match facility and its employees? The time is now to start thinking outside the box as to what we as community members can do to help displaced workers.

Sure, there are some support mechanisms available to the 85 workers including workforce grants and sympathetic politicians, and other employers that may absorb the Diamond Match employees. However, most solutions may involve relocation of families who have grown to call Cloquet home.

A possible solution: Our community of Cloquet, Carlton County, and the Cloquet Area Chamber of Commerce have a golden opportunity to look into the possibility of partnering with the Fond du Lac Band or the Mille Lacs Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and purchase and operate the Diamond Match facility.

"What!," you say. "Are you crazy?"

But wait, with a little thinking, imagination, foresight and leadership, the possibilities for new products in addition to the current production items may be endless: wooden toys, salad bowls, picture frames, cremation containers, any item that could be made out of wood or its by-products could be considered. After all, Cloquet was built on wood industries. In addition, partnering with the Fond du Lac or Mille Lacs Bands could offer further diversification for the Fond du Lac or Mille Lacs members. Recently the Mille Lacs Band purchased the Sandy Lake Resort — including residential, rental, and vacation homes — in rural McGregor, Minn., as a means of diversification.

A benefit for everyone in our area is that a locally owned and managed facility would continue to employ people from this area.

Yeah, but what experience do local people have in running a manufacturing facility? Is there another Ted Weyerhaeuser of Northwest Paper Company fame, or another Jeno Paulucci, an architect of a very successful food company out there that no one knows about?

Until the late Bill Houle set in motion the current Black Bear Casino, the Fond du Lac Band had little idea how to operate a profitable local casino. Bill was a visionary who saw, recognized and pursued an economic possibility for the Fond du Lac Band. It became reality. As they say, the rest is history.

A similar opportunity with the Diamond Match facility currently may exist. All it needs is people with a vision, desire, and the ability to take a risk. I would dare to venture that the Diamond Match physical facility could possibly be purchased for cents on the dollar. The University of Minnesota-Duluth offers degrees in accounting, business, and management that are second to none. A rare opportunity to partner with the University of Minnesota for human resources may also exist. Or, maybe a whole new direction in another industry may be explored.

I urge our elected officials to get really motivated about growing our local business employment base and helping local businesses in need. Consider the opportunity that currently exists with Diamond Match and begin the process of thinking outside the box for a solution. I also challenge the business committees of each Band to initiate action with elected officials, Cloquet Area Chamber of Commerce, and other players to save a local business and local jobs.

Let's hope that potential players in this current situation can put aside any differences and work to the common goal of keeping Diamond Match open.

Could it grow to its former glory days of over 600 employees? Who knows. But one thing is certain, if we as a community do not try, we all know the consequences. After all, we are all members of the larger Carlton County community.