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Printing press ceasing operations locally

The Wadena printing plant still best known to locals as WATCO will make its final press run in early January before consolidating its operation with a Detroit Lakes plant.

Forum Communications Printing -- Wadena will move its equipment and operations to Forum Communications Printing -- Detroit Lakes in a consolidation move, said Plant Manager Ron Horn.

Both entities are owned by Forum Communications Company, which also owns the Pioneer Journal. The PJ is not affected in the consolidation.

Horn said he informed the plant's 32 employees (half full-time, half part-time) of the changes on Thursday, Dec. 3. Horn said the Wadena employee base includes pre-press technicians, press operators, mail room equipment operators and general laborers. Most of the employees will be offered jobs at the Detroit Lakes facility, Horn said, and the presses will be brought there.

"They're picking up the equipment and moving it over there [Detroit Lakes], so they're going to need a majority of the staff to operate it," Horn said.

Horn said the operation was started by a consortium of newspapers, and the name WATCO was an acronym with each letter representing the counties of those newspapers: Wadena, Aitkin, Todd, Cass and Otter Tail. The owners later sold to Forum Communications.

The employees at the Wadena plant were offered bonuses to work through the January transition, and many will have jobs in Detroit Lakes. Others, because of the extra driving distance or other factors, have said they won't go there, Horn said.

The final production date in Wadena is expected to be Jan. 8, Horn said, and then workers will remain to disassemble the presses and equipment for transport.

Horn said the Wadena operation currently prints many area newspapers, including Staples, Sebeka, Battle Lake, Perham and Alexandria, and has regular commercial print customers like Mason Brothers in Wadena.

"As of now, every one of our current customers seem to be sticking with us and moving to D.L.," Horn said. "In the long run, the move will be better for some of our clients."

Horn said the equipment at the Detroit Lakes facility is newer and that could translate to good quality.

Horn said the employees were in shock the initial couple of days after the announcement. But he said the crews have been true professionals and are doing a quality job despite the move.

"Things are running just as smooth now as they were before," Horn said Tuesday. "We have several employees who have been here for 30 years. There's been a lot of loyalty to this place. Some of them, it's the only job they've ever known."