Sweet reward

Coming out of bankruptcy, BPM Inc. finds success in niche paper markets

Posted on Jul 29, 2019 :: Cover Story
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

That combination, along with its flexibility and innovation in meeting customer needs, has allowed BPM to carve out a growing niche in the confectionery market along with other markets, including food packaging, interleaver papers and overwraps.

“There’s been a mill right here making paper for 100 years, so there’s that historic tie, but the important thing is we’ve become a one-stop shop for our customers, and that’s allowed us to not only survive, but thrive,” says Jim Koronkiewicz, who’s been with BPM and its predecessor for 40 years and now serves as general manager. “We are able to control the whole process, which means improved quality of the final product.”

While business is booming today for the specialty paper mill, it wasn’t always that way. In 2005, the company then known as Badger Paper Mill declared bankruptcy and closed suddenly, putting 143 people out of work. In the mid-1990s, the company employed 450 but began to contract like others in the industry that could no longer make it work financially.

But this is where the story changes from other shuttered mills. Instead of sitting idle, James Azzar, who owned another paper mill in Indiana, purchased the company’s assets and renamed it BPM Inc. He brought back some employees, including Koronkiewicz, and restarted the mill. BPM became a partner for customers looking for a single source for their paper, printing, coating and converting needs.

While Badger Paper Mill worked with the confectionery market, BPM solidified its focus on the niche segment, creating wrappers for taffy, suckers, cough drops and penny candy for well-known companies as well as smaller operators.

“Those markets are recession-proof since people always buy penny candy,” says Rod Wiltzius, BPM’s converting manager and, like Koronkiewicz, a holdover from Badger Paper Mill.

SETTING ITSELF APART

While the confectionery segment attracts a lot of attention because of the big-name players the company works with, BPM also makes wrappers for the food industry, including meat and cheese interleaver papers, and its own fine paper line, Envirographic 100, which is made of 100 percent post-consumer products.

Whatever the segment, Koronkiewicz says BPM works to set itself apart from its competitors. “We’re attractive in the marketplace since we have the ability to reduce waste and costs while improving efficiencies,” he says.

But things weren’t always that way. As Badger Paper Mill, the company had a bloated org chart that made operations less than efficient. Once Azzar purchased the company, some workers came back, while new ones also came on. Koronkiewicz says the company’s entire culture changed overnight.

“We went from being a place with a huge org chart to one where everyone’s job was focused on getting the orders in, done and out the door,” he says. “Our job was to make it work and we did.”

For the next 10 years, BPM focused on survival and building up business. For the past five years, the company has focused on another challenge: finding enough workers with the right skills.

BPM — and Koronkiewicz personally — has been proactive in attracting new workers to manufacturing. The company is active with the Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance, works with CESA 8 on two programs and reaches out to postsecondary schools inthe region.

“Jim’s a passionate leader and always looking for opportunities to collaborate and partner to promote manufacturing jobs,” says NEWMA Director Ann Franz. “When we are looking for someone to help with a program, he’s the first one to raise his hand.”

Franz says Koronkiewicz, a former member of the Peshtigo school board, is passionate about K-12 education, with BPM serving as a sponsor to send math and tech teachers to last year’s “Get Real Math!” video premiere.

With CESA 8, BPM is involved in its Career Academy Teacher Externship (CATE) and its Inspire program. With CATE, middle and high school teachers are selected to work side-by-side with industry peers during a three- to five-day paid summer externship at an area business.

The teachers come away with a better understanding of the skills and knowledge necessary for different jobs, while the participating businesses create lasting partnerships with educators, which can increase opportunities for student job shadowing, plant tours and career speakers. Through Inspire, students can learn about career opportunities and have a chance to go on tours, find mentors and secure job shadow experiences and internships.

During the recent NEWMA membership meeting in Manitowoc, BPM’s Inspire profile was held up as an example of what companies could do with the program.

“With both programs, we raise awareness about what we do here and the types of opportunities here,” Koronkiewicz says. “Some people may have an idea, but it’s not always accurate.”

At the postsecondary level, BPM works with both Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay to discuss what types of programming or courses are necessary in today’s workplace. Koronkiewicz also sits on advisory boards for UW-Green Bay.

BPM not only has to worry about filling today’s jobs, but those openings to come as its aging workforce begins to retire.

“Anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of our employees could be retiring in the next few years,” says Koronkiewicz, adding that five C-suite managers are age 60 or older. With older workers, he says BPM is looking at innovative ways to keep current employees working longer, such as offering more flexible schedules.

As for the skills BPM is seeking in employees, Koronkiewicz says they cover a broad range.

“We need machine operators, other floor operators … who have mechanical and computer skills,” he says. “We work here as a team to make it work. If there’s something ‘off,’ everyone pitches in to solve the problem. Everyone wears a lot of hats.”

He says BPM is a firm believer in education, with the company providing tuition reimbursement for those in training or other programs where they can improve their skills. The business also is not afraid to promote internally, says Koronkiewicz, who started at the mill as converting equipment operator.

FOCUS ON GREEN

Not long after the mill along the Peshtigo River reopened, Koronkiewicz found himself in Washington, D.C., sitting at a table with 31 other U.S. employers to become the first participants in the Department of Energy’s Save Energy Now program.

“It was just starting out in 2006 and we were among the first employers involved. (Energy conservation) was definitely something we were interested in,” he says. “And here is little BPM sitting at the same table with Dow Chemical — I thought, why not?”

When joining the program, BPM pledged to reduce its energy intensity by 30 percent in 10 years, which meant the company would reduce energy consumption while creating greater product value. Five years later, the company not only reached that mark, but surpassed it.

BPM is also a part of the Wisconsin Focus on Energy program, receiving energy-saving incentives for actions such as installing energy-efficient compressed air systems and lighting. It also received the Green Professional designation from the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council’s Green Masters Program in 2015.

“By participating in sustainability programs, the community and our customers recognize we are doing the right thing,” Koronkiewicz says.

One energy-saving example: BPM installed a new natural gas-powered boiler next to one of its paper machines. Koronkiewicz says the $1.25 million investment paid for itself in six months.

“We’re constantly improving and looking at ways that we can get even better,” he says. “Sustainability is driven by customer demand.”

For its fine paper line, BPM uses recycled paper, which helps save trees and reduce landfill space, wastewater usage and greenhouse gas emissions while minimizing energy consumption. The Envirographic 100 is made on one of the mill’s two presses. Wiltzius says BPM monitors inventory and only runs the press when orders call for it.

“We’re not going to operate a machine unless the orders are there,” he says. “We may run that machine for one week of the month and the other one (which makes paper for its printing and converting operations) three weeks of the month.

And if we need to, we can run both. Our workers are cross-trained and can work on both.”

GROWTH PLAN

Whether it’s finding more sustainable production methods or developing a better way to make a product, continuous improvement is behind everything at BPM.

“We’re focused on growth markets so as our customers grow, we can grow, too,” Koronkiewicz says. “(Customers) are surprised where we’re located, but we have made a name for ourselves. It truly comes down to our people. They are the difference. Everyone here does what needs to be done.”

While BPM is having a successful run, Koronkiewicz and his leadership team continue to look for ways for the company to grow. One such area is working with customers on trial projects. He says BPM is “flexible and agile” when it comes to trying out something new such as biodegradable paper straws — one possibility the company is looking at.

The company’s smaller size makes experimentation possible, and if a product change or tweak works, there’s a huge upside.

“Developing new products is one way we can really grow,” Wiltzius says. “Being small, we’re nimble. We can trial a new type of coating for a client. It’s really about being responsive to a client. We have a short chain of command here, so if there’s a new idea or special request, we can do it.”

BPM also has the advantage of having a sister company — Bomarko Inc. in Plymouth, Ind., that does similar work, so if a problem develops in Peshtigo, the other company can quickly pick up essential work, which provides customers with extra peace of mind, Koronkiewicz says.

Perhaps the biggest difference between BPM and its competitors is that ability to be a one-stop shop for its customers.

“That ability to control the process is huge in making sure you get the best possible product every time,” says plant engineer Steve Peterich. “Businesses are also paying more attention to where their products are coming from and chain of custody. By having us take care of everything, that’s one less thing they need to worry about.”

BPM INC.

Headquarters: Peshtigo
Year founded:   1929
What it does: Manufactures specialty papers and converted materials for the packaging, food service and confectionery industries. Provides full-service printing and in-house capabilities to add coating to flexible packaging products. Produces uncoated fine papers under the Envirographic 100 brand.

Employees: 120

bpmpaper.com