KEYSER - Area residents reacted with shock Tuesday as the news spread quickly of the impending closure of Verso’s Luke Mill.

By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - Area residents reacted with shock Tuesday as the news spread quickly of the impending closure of Verso’s Luke Mill.
A major employer for Mineral, Allegany and Garrett counties for 130+ years, the mill currently employs 675 people.
Early Tuesday, those at work were told of the decision to permanently close the mill, while those who happened to work later shifts or be off on that day learned they were losing their jobs from friends, Facebook, or the media.
According to the press release on Verso’s website, the decision was made because “we could not achieve profitability at the mill in today’s market environment.”
As the affected employees struggled to cope with the reality of the announcement, area elected officials, community leaders and others quickly sprang into action to come up with ways to help the displaced workers in a multitude of areas.
Mineral County Development Authority director Kevin Clark announced Wednesday that the Authority, the Mineral County Chamber of Commerce, and Convention and Visitors Bureau are setting up specific hours on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday for Verso employees to come in and register for a database of workers and their particular skill sets.
Businesses are being invited to register as well, stating the type of workers they would need.
“We are asking these people to provide us with their information so that when we begin to start service coordination, we will have a database to pull from,” Clark said.
Volunteers will be available from noon to 8 p.m. Friday, noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and noon to 8 p.m. Monday to meet with the workers and take their information at the chamber office, located at 40 1/2 N. Main St in downtown Keyser.
Clark said the hours will be extended if needed to accommodate the number of people coming in.
In the meantime, Chamber president Randy Crane told the News Tribune he has set up a meeting with Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College to discuss what training programs might be available for the workers.
Keyser mayor Damon Tillman told the News Tribune that the city continues to work on bringing businesses into the area, including talks with CSX about the possibility of acquiring some of the former B&O property, which could be marketed as a location for business or warehouses.
The city is also expecting an announcement soon that a Grant County business will be purchasing property in Keyser to set up a small branch office, which could mean some additional jobs.
On the state level, Del. Gary Howell got in contact with Gov. Jim Justice and Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch to make them aware of the situation, and on the federal level, Sen. Joe Manchin met with Verso CEO Leslie Lederer as well as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.
State director for Manchin Mara Boggs also told the News Tribune the Senator’s office is working on some ways in which they can reach out to the workers as they begin seeking other employment.
Other programs and plans are currently being formulated, and will be announced by the News Tribune as details become available.
Crane said he is hopeful the area will come together to help one another through this difficult time.
“The same thing happened in Allegany County at least four times, and while it was painful, people and businesses rallied to get through it,” he said.
“I expect no less here in Mineral County, and have seen many people working hard already to help in many ways.
“I will be asking all of our businesses to help in any way they can to assist our neighbors, friends and family members.
“Together, we can get through this.”