TICONDEROGA International Paper Co. has announced an $11.4 million upgrade at its Ticonderoga mill. The move will make the local plant more competitive and ensure jobs, according to IP officials. A $950,000 grant from the Empire State Development Corporation will assist IP in the upgrade. Empire State Development is committed to supporting the needs of companies that want to invest and grow in the North Country region, Dan Gundersen, chairman of the state development group, said at a press conference Dec. 6. With this particular project we are retaining jobs and, more importantly, assisting the largest employer in Essex County maintain its operations in upstate New York. The Ticonderoga mill has more than 618 employees. It also provides income to nearly 700 independent truckers and loggers in the area. The upgrade calls for the purchase and installation of a new digital sheeter and packaging equipment; improvements to the mills no. 2 sheeter by transferring packaging equipment from IPs Pensacola, Fla., plant to Ticonderoga; and training local employees in the operation and maintenance of the equipment. In the past, equipment limited the paper the Ti mill could package. More than 30,000 tons of paper a year was shipped from Ti to other IP facilities for packaging, according to IP Converting Plant Upgrade Project Manager Eugene Fox said. Thats no longer the case. Those are sizes we would have to ship rolls to other sites to convert for us, he said. Now, we will convert that at the Ticonderoga mill here in New York. Mill spokeswoman Donna Wadsworth said the new sheeter makes the Ti mill more productive. We expect to grow that market share and hold that market share, she said. You have to look at that next generation of paper. The acquisition of this machine for our Finishing Department is very, very important to us. Ticonderoga Supervisor Bob Dedrick welcomed the news. Who said Christmas doesn't come early?, he smiled. International Paper has been the lifeblood of the Ticonderoga area. We are so, so thankful for them. This will allow the mill to produce paper for years to come. Also attending the press conference was state Sen. Betty Little and other officials. This is a smart state investment in a great Adirondack employer, Little said. Upgrades to our Ticonderoga International paper plant will help ensure it remains viable in an increasingly competitive global market. This is very important for Ticonderoga and the entire region and I applaud Dan Gundersen and Empire State Development for making this a priority. Chris Mallon, Ti mill manager, was unable to attend the press conference, but issued a statement. This award and endorsement represents a significant partnership between International papers Ticonderoga mill and Empire State Development, he said. The Converting Room Upgrade Project is integral to our strategic plan for the future of our mill. Following the press conference, state and local officials toured the mill and saw the upgrades. The Ticonderoga mill, built in 1971, has a $40 million annual payroll. Last year, it purchased $28.6 million in wood and wood chips from suppliers and $23 million in goods and services from New York state vendors.