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Owens visits Omniafiltra, gets hands-on tour

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BEAVER FALLS — It was business as usual Monday afternoon at Omniafiltra as U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, toured the industrial paper and fiber manufacturing facility.

So usual, in fact, that Mr. Owens got more than a walking tour.

“This is hands-on management ... literally,” Mr. Owens said as he watched mill manager Scott C. Sauer operate one of the large machines.

When one employee was called away unexpectedly for a family matter, Mr. Sauer stepped into his role on the machine line, taking just a few minutes to meet with Mr. Owens before returning to the machines.

“It’s a real collaborative effort here,” Mr. Owens said. “It’s real. It’s impressive.”

He decided to visit the mill after learning employees had recently celebrated 10 years in business. In the struggling paper industry, startups and similar successes are almost unheard of.

“We’re just ending the best week we’ve ever had,” Mr. Sauer said, explaining that with today’s strength of 35 employees and the hope of adding six more, the business is a far cry from where it started 10 years ago.

“We had no power, no transformer,” he said. “We had one customer.”

Mr. Sauer attributes the success to the dedicated employees, hired after the mill was sold and stood empty for several years.

He discussed the challenges of operating the facility with few inexpensive options for shipping and receiving.

“It’s expensive and we’re far from the Thruway,” he said.

Mr. Owens asked about the possibility of the return of railroads to the county, and Lewis County Economic Development Director Eric J. Virkler said there are several other businesses that would be potential rail users.

“It might be worth taking a look into,” Mr. Owens said.

The leaders mentioned that rail-freight operator CSX Corp. is investing $100 million to improve rail lines between Montreal and Syracuse.

Mr. Sauer also explained how his crew’s flexibility has helped Omniafiltra continue to grow.

“Anything the big guys can’t or won’t do ... that’s our niche,” he said.

Though offering specialty products many others do not, Mr. Sauer said, it still keeps prices low.

“Our prices are extremely competitive,” he said. “We’ve gotten good at our game.”

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