[LONG] US Paper Mills Closing
Daniel B. Wheeler
dwheeler at ipns.com
Wed Aug 8 10:15:56 EST 2001
>From The Oregonian, August 4, 2001, p C1
Losses aren't just on paper
Since mid-1995, the U.S. paper industry has cut 62,400 jobs, having a
devastating effect on small-town millworkers and economies
By WILLIAM KATES, The Associated Press
DEFEREIT, N.Y. - Pat Ambrose couldn't watch as an auctioneer sold off
pieces of the defunct Deferiet Paper Co. It was too much like watching
his life being picked over.
When he started at the northern New York paper mill in 1969, he was
one of 900 workers. The paper industry was bomming nationwide, and
Ambroise figured he could count on his job at Deferiet until
"Right up to the end, we were hoping someone would come forward and
buy thewhole plant, reopen it and give us our jobs back," Ambroise
said, waiting outside the warehouse where the auction was held July 17
But the century-old mill was gone for good, a victim of a U.S. paper
industry transformed by overcapacity, corporate consolidation and
Since mid-1995, about 62,400 jobs - paper, pulp, paperboard,
containers and converted paper - have disappeared, according to the
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau counts 637,000 workers
nationwide in the paper industry.
Half the lost jobs have come at parper mills, many of them at older
facilities in small towns such as Deferiet; Lock Haven, Pa.; Port St.
Joe, Fla.; and Vicksburg, Mich.
"It's been a very prolonged cycles, and it's going to be difficult to
break," said Todd Harris of Kline & Co., a Little Falls, N.J.
In New York, state labor department figures show that since 1990,
total jobs in the paper industry have dropped from 41,000 to slightly
more than 29,000, and about 2,500 of those 12,000 lost jobs have been
in paper mills.
In Wisconsin, the nation's top papermaking state, mills continue to
acocount for one in 12 manufacturing jobs and no plants have closed.
But companies have had to adjust to lower demand.
"One thing we are seeing here is that companies are now matching
production with orders," said Tom Schmidt, president of the Wisconsin
Paper Council, a trade group. "It used to be mills ran full-out."
Schmidt hopes the present downward cycle will end by late 2002.
Others, however, are less optimistic.
"Industrywide, we've been losing about 10,000 jobs a year for the
past few years," said Keith Romig, a spokesman for the 320,000-member
Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy Workers International
Union based in Nashville, Tenn.
"The impact is devastating. These are families in small towns. There
are usually no other local jobs at comparable wages," he said. "People
are pulling up stakes, but they're only finding that there just aren't
a lot of these jobs anywhere."
The drop can be traced from the middle of the 20th century, when the
United States led the global paper business, to the late 1970s as
companies expanded production to take advantage of a ripe market.
"Prices were high so companies kept adding capacity," said Lynne
Baker, a union spokeswoman. "That's part of the problem today. Even
though Americans use about 50 percent more paper today than they did
in 1980, there's still an oversupply."
High energy costs, higher costs for pulp, overseas competitors that
produce paper cheaper and mergers have also worked to wear down the
U.S. industry, analysts said.
International Paper, the nation's largest papermaker, swallowed
Champion International last year. Since then it has closed four mills
and is in the midst of eliminating nearly 4,000 jobs - about one-tenth
of its worldwide work force.
No. 2 Georgia-Pacific Corp. purchased Fort James Corp. last year and
immediately announced plans to sell off mills in Arkansas, Wisconsin
and Maine. It also closed a pulp mill in Washington, eliminating 600
Also in 2000, Smurfit-Stone acquired Canadian paperboard-maker St.
Laurent Paperboard for $631 million. It followed by closing five paper
In the Northwest, Weyerhaeuser in the past year has waged a hostile
takeover for Portland-based Willamette Industries. Weyerhaeuser, based
in Federal Way, Wash., hasn't provided details aboiut what would
happen to mills after a merger.
"Paper manufacturing also has become an economics of scale. The newer
plants are bigger, more productive, more efficient," said Alan
Beideck, a New York state labor analyst who follows the paperinudstry.
"Where you have older plants, like here in New York, that's where
you're seeing the closings and cutbacks."
In past decades, small struggling mills could switch to specialty
papers or limited production grades and possibly find a niche for
themselves, said Peter Parker, a professor of paper, printing science
and engineering at Western Michigan University in Kalamzoo, an area
hit by four mill closings in the past year.
Now, technology allows larger mills to make grade and production
changes easily, eliminating that niche, Parker said.
"I don't see good times ahead for the small (mills)," Parker said.
"It seems their days are numbered."
Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler
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