By Nathan Rushton
The Eureka Reporter
August 8, 2008

A Mendocino Redwood Co. executive said Thursday the company is nearing the completion of the hiring phase and are looking ahead to get the new Humboldt Redwood Co. business moving forward.

While the lives of many longtime Pacific Lumber Co. employees have been disrupted and some are out of work as a result of the lengthy bankruptcy, MRC officials said most PALCO employees have been rehired and operations in Scotia are returning to normal.

"We are happy to have people back at work," said Richard Higgenbottom, MRC chief executive officer in a phone interview Thursday.

The mill in Scotia began operating on Wednesday after a nearly one-week hiatus.

Higgenbottom said approximately 32 employees from MRC have been brought in to help with hiring process, provide orientation and provide systems training.

While management works to form its team to move forward, Higgenbottom said the company is just looking to get settled down and institute the new system, which he said will take a couple of weeks to get up and running.

Higgenbottom said the company has tried to alleviate as much uncertainty for workers by contact everyone as soon as possible.

Nearly all employees were phoned as of Wednesday to let them know if there was a position for them or not.

"I personally made many of those calls," Higgenbottom said. "I think it was the appropriate thing to do."

Of PALCO's and Scotia Pacific Co.'s approximately 363 employees, Higgenbottom said HRC and Marathon Structured Finance Fund extended offers to approximately 320 workers.

But the final number of employees may be less because some may not take the offers, while others are on vacation or leaves of absence.

As MRC had indicated in the bankruptcy proceedings, Higgenbottom said there was not a plan to retain many of the PALCO management, which is where much of the displaced workers have come from.

Higgenbottom, as well other MRC executives, will play double duty in both businesses.

To aid in the transition and get financial and other services to displaced workers, a Rapid Response Team of the Job Market, a program of the Humboldt County Workforce Investment Board, held a meeting in Fortuna on Thursday for PALCO employees.

WIB Executive Director Jacqueline Debets said after the meeting there wasn't a big turnout, but all 12 of people who did show up signed up for help.

But for the remainder of the estimated 50 displaced employees - who she described as the "cream of the crop" of PALCO's employees - Debets urged them to get connected and signed up for services as soon as possible.

"It doesn't hurt you to sign up, it's only positive," Debets said. "But waiting can hurt you."

One of those services - unemployment insurance - has an automatic one-week waiting period, which Debets said is better to get started early, even if a worker isn't certain yet they are out of a job.

Job Market vocational counselors can help displaced workers identify available jobs.

"There are companies hiring," Debets said.

Debets said there are also programs with access to money to support a training plan if workers want to switch industries, as well as services for spouses who may also be eligible.

And instead of risking huge penalties for dipping into retirement savings early, Debets said Job Market staff can help discuss ways workers can get at their money without getting dinged.

To get more information about programs, phone the Job Market at 707-441-4600.

Another outreach meeting for PALCO's displaced workers will be held Thursday, Aug. 14 from 10 a.m. to noon at the Fireman's Hall at 320 South Fortuna Boulevard.

All in all, Debets said the transition from PALCO to HRC has been a good outcome for the community and the resource lands, although it is a sad outcome for the displaced workers for now.

"But something good can come out of it," Debets said.