Processing Magazine

Sour economy hits paper mills, small-town workers

September 19, 2008

As U.S. paper mills are struggling with a sour economy, cheap imports, and the rise of digital communication are affecting the industry. According to the Associated Press, earlier this month, workers dabbed their eyes with tissue as sheets of paper rolled out of two massive milling machines for the last time. After a century of supplying jobs to this town of 6,300 and neighboring communities, the paper-making factory has stopped production, leaving residents worried about their community''s future now that its key business is gone. The mill was built in 1889 and has been Kimberly''s lifeblood ever since, producing the glossy paper used in magazines and slick brochures. It''s a scene that has played out in small paper towns from California to Maine. The number of jobs in the domestic paper industry has shrunk about 20 percent in recent years as costs rise and imports become cheaper. Demand all around has been dampened by the slow economy as well as the shift of eyeballs away from the printed page toward the screens of PCs and cell phones. But NewPage Corp. of Miamisburg, Ohio, decided to shut the plant, shedding 475 jobs in addition to 125 cut in May. Wisconsin still has more jobs in the paper industry than any other state, mainly because of its proximity to vast rivers that supply millions of gallons of water for the treatment of wood pulp. Kimberly, about 25 miles southwest of Green Bay, is on the Fox River. After a 2006 filing by the NewPage Corp., the U.S. Commerce Department imposed anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on some types of paper from China, Indonesia and South Korea. But the decision was overturned last year by the U.S. International Trade Commission, which said the American industry hadn''t proven it was being materially harmed by Asian imports. The company hopes it can reopen the mill if conditions improve, but workers say they''ve been told to find full-time work elsewhere.