Rumford mill owner files for bankruptcy protection

The company that owns the paper mill in Rumford is seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection while it restructures.

NewPage Corp., based in Ohio, said it expects to continue operating its U.S. businesses as usual and has commitments for $600 million in financing led by JPMorgan Chase. NewPage also said it expects to emerge as a financially stronger company.

The company makes coated paper for magazines and catalogs, and uncoated and specialty paper. It has been hurt by rising costs for raw materials and lower demand. At the end of last year, NewPage reported more than $3 billion in debts and a net loss of $656 million for 2010, with $3.6 billion in net sales for the year.

The mill in Rumford employs 900 to 1,000 people, said Matt Bean, president of Local 900 of the United Steelworkers, the largest union at the plant.

Union leaders met Wednesday with company officials and were assured that the company is not seeking to renegotiate its union contract, Bean said, and there were no discussions about layoffs.

The Rumford mill, which began operating in 1901, is among the largest in the company. The mill produces an average of 640,000 tons of paper per year and about 500,000 tons of hardwood, softwood and groundwood pulp, according to the company’s website. 

Consumer spending lifts Fed’s Beige Book findings

Despite the turmoil that shook the financial markets last month, the Federal Reserve says its 12 bank regions grew this summer because consumers spent more in many parts of the country.

The Fed said five of its regions — St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas and San Francisco — reported modest or slight growth in late July and August. The seven other regions described growth as subdued, slow or sluggish.

The survey, released Wednesday, is known as the Beige Book and offers mostly anecdotal information on economic conditions around the country. Its findings were a slight improvement from the previous survey, which said growth had slowed in eight of the 12 regions in June and early July. 

Job openings rise in July but hiring still sluggish

Companies in July advertised the most jobs in three years, and layoffs declined — a bit of hope for a weak economy. Still, many employers are in no rush to fill openings.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that employers increased their postings to 3.23 million from 3.17 million in June. That is the largest number of openings since August 2008. Typically, it takes anywhere from one to three months to fill an opening.

More openings don’t guarantee more jobs. The government said last week that employers failed to add any net jobs in August, the worst month for hiring since September 2010. The unemployment rate stayed at 9.1 percent for the second straight month. 

U.S. falls to fifth in ranking of competitive economies

The United States has tumbled further down a global ranking of the world’s most competitive economies, landing at fifth place because of its huge deficits and declining public faith in government, a global economic group said Wednesday.

The announcement by the World Economic Forum was the latest bad news for the Obama administration, which has been struggling to boost the sinking U.S. economy and lower the unemployment rate.

Switzerland held onto the top spot for the third consecutive year in the annual ranking by the Geneva-based forum, which is best known for its exclusive meeting of luminaries in Davos, Switzerland, each January.

Singapore moved up to second place, bumping Sweden to third. Finland moved up to fourth place from seventh last year. The United States was in fourth place last year after falling from No. 1 in 2008. 

— From staff and news services