Wisconsin’s paper industry still leads the nation, WEDC study finds

Wisconsin’s paper industry still leads the nation, WEDC study finds

2019-08-02T15:37:56-05:00August 5, 2019|Featured Home, News|

Report underscores economic impact of state’s paper industry, outlines emerging opportunities

MADISON, WI. August 5, 2019 – Wisconsin’s paper industry continues to lead the nation on many economic measures, according to a new study released today by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

The study by the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology (WIST) at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point found the state ranks first in the nation in the number of paper mills, the number of employees and the value of products sold.

The report also found that Wisconsin’s paper industry is better positioned than many of its peers to meet demands for new products because of investments in plant upgrades, technological advances and improved worker training. (Read the full report on the economic contribution of Wisconsin’s paper industry.)

Wisconsin’s pulp, paper and converting industries directly generated $18.2 billion in economic output and employed more than 30,000 workers in 2018, the report found. The paper industry’s total contributions to Wisconsin’s economy—including direct, indirect and induced benefits—come to more than $28.8 billion and more than 95,000 jobs. Indirect benefits include money spent on supplies or other materials or services that supply the industry, while “induced benefits” refers to the spending of personal income from the direct and indirect benefits.

The study also reveals the geographic breadth of the paper manufacturing industry in Wisconsin, with 41 of the state’s 72 counties home to at least one paper manufacturing business, whether that is a mill or a converter. In some counties paper manufacturing represents more than 20% of manufacturing activity.

WEDC unveiled the report today at pulp, paper and converting businesses around the state to highlight the paper industry’s role in the state economy. Paper is Wisconsin’s fifth-largest industry.

“The paper industry continues to play a key role in Wisconsin’s manufacturing economy,” said Mark R. Hogan, secretary and CEO of WEDC. “It also provides a prime example of how Wisconsin businesses are incorporating innovation and sustainability to maintain our role as a national—and global—leader.”

WEDC sponsored the study by WIST, a unit of the College of Natural Resources at UW-Stevens Point, to help state officials better understand the economic contributions of paper manufacturing in the state.

WIST researchers began their study by reviewing and collating publicly available industry data such as the number of mills in the state, number of workers employed, and the volume and types of products produced. They followed up by surveying and interviewing industry leaders to uncover industry trends, challenges and opportunities.

Other key findings of the report include:

  • Although it is often referred to as “the paper industry” or sometimes “pulp and paper,” the industry includes both commodity products, such as brown paper, and more specialized products.
  • Twenty-four paper companies operate mills at 34 locations in Wisconsin. Integrated mills, such as ND Paper in Biron, produce both pulp and paper. Others produce only one or the other. Ahlstrom-Munksjö’s Rhinelander mill, for example, purchases fiber to produce specialty papers. Sustana, in DePere, makes pulp from recycled fiber and sells the pulp to other companies.
  • At least 204 converters operate facilities in the state. Converters take paper produced at a mill and change it to a finished product. This diverse range of products includes art paper, food packaging, tissues and towels, medical and industrial papers, printing and writing papers, and more.
  • After a period of consolidation and mill closures driven by declining paper demand, industry leaders say they are optimistic about the future. Growing consumer concerns about the use of plastic, from straws to single-use bags to food packaging, is creating new opportunities for paper-based materials.
  • The growth of e-commerce, or the “Amazon effect,” has also created opportunities for the industry by increasing demand for shipment packaging, such as boxes.
  • Finding and retaining skilled workers is a major concern. With the median worker’s age at 47.8 years, many in the industry are bracing for a “silver tsunami” of retirements within the next five to ten years. Leaders say they are working to promote job opportunities in the industry, especially for younger workers with math, communication and problem-solving skills. Leaders are also looking to hire workers in the skilled trades, such as electricians and pipefitters.
  • Other major concerns involve transportation, including a labor shortage in the trucking industry; aging infrastructure within the industry, which is prompting many companies to invest in new equipment; fiber availability; and environmental regulations.

“Overall, there is a strong sense of optimism in the industry,” the report concludes. “Industry leaders believe the worst storms have been weathered by the pulp, paper and converting industries, and prospects are better today than they were five years ago.”