State’s paper industry leads nation

Posted by of Insight Publications

Wisconsin’s paper industry continues to lead the nation in the number of both paper mills and employees and the value of products sold, according to a new study released by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

The state’s pulp, paper and converting industries directly generated $18.2 billion in economic output and employed more than 30,000 workers in 2018, according to the study, which the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point completed for the WEDC. The industry’s total contributions to the state’s economy — including direct, indirect and induced benefits — come to more than $28.8 billion and more than 95,000 jobs.

The study also found the state’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.

“The paper industry continues to play a key role in Wisconsin’s manufacturing economy,” said WEDC Secretary and CEO Mark R. Hogan. “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.”

The study also revealed 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 percent of manufacturing activity. Paper is the state’s fifth-largest industry segment.

Other key report findings 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. Some produce both pulp and paper while others make one or the other.
  • The state is home to at least 204 converters. Converters take paper produced at a mill and change it to a finished product, from art paper and food packaging to medical and industrial papers and writing papers.
  • 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,” also has created opportunities for the industry by increasing demand for shipment packaging, such as boxes.

One area of concern is finding and retaining skilled workers. With the median worker’s age at 47.8 years, many in the paper industry are bracing for a “silver tsunami” of retirements within the next five to 10 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 also are looking to hire workers in the skilled trades, such as electricians and pipefitters.

“Overall, there is a strong sense of optimism in the industry,” the report said. “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.”

Click here to read the report.