Future of the Wisconsin paper industry - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Future of the Wisconsin paper industry


  By Heather Sawaski - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

 WISCONSIN (WAOW) -- The community of Whiting is still coming to terms with the loss of the NewPage paper mill. Leaders announced Wednesday the machines will shutdown for good in February, and all the workers will be laid off. This is not the first time a closure like this has happened, and leaders be live it probably won't be the last.

Sheets, toweling, and tissues. Paper is part of our everyday lives. And for the last century, it seems Wisconsin companies have been shredding the competition. But news of the shutdown of the NewPage mill in Whiting has left some uneasy.

"As technology advances and electronic media and how we communicate, paper is being eliminated from the process," David Eckmann, Economic Development Director for the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce.


It's by no means time for paper people to panic. But a shift in the industry is making things a little more challenging. That's according to Eckmann. He says paper is becoming a more global product.

"So, you see companies here being very proactive," he said. "Trying to get into niche products, becoming more green and environmentally friendly."


Experts say energy is one of the biggest expenses in the paper industry. Companies need to find ways to save. Take the controversial biomass project in Rothschild. Eckmann says using greener ways to create energy is a step in the right direction.


Another push is taking place in Park Falls. Flambeau River Papers is in the process of becoming a bio-refinery. Leaders hope to start converting bark and sawdust into diesel by 2013, making their company more marketable.

"Those are the types of things we have to look at too," Eckmann explained. "If something happens, how do we transition? How do we transition a facility? How do we transition a workforce?"


On the flip side, industry leaders say there are a lot of Wisconsin-made paper products still in high demand.

"Think of the paper bag for microwave popcorn," said Jeff Landin, the President of the Wisconsin Paper Council. "Tissue and tissue products. We produce a wide range of products and that helps our industry stay afloat and be able to compete more."


In other words, experts believe the state's paper industry won't be crumbling anytime soon, but companies need to shift with the trends.

"If we don't," Eckmann said. "these things are going to happen. " 

He added, the loss of jobs trickles down to the local economy. The laying off the 360 employees in Whiting will mean an estimated $28 million hit to the community.

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