Enhancing the Northern Wisconsin economy and environment
In March 2006, the pulp and paper mill in Park Falls, the chief economic engine in the Wisconsin Northwoods, closed its doors. It was a sad but familiar US manufacturing story: The costs for energy, raw materials and labor had rendered the plant unprofitable.
Despite its economic challenges, the mill had remarkable potential, including state-of-the-art equipment, a focus on environmental stewardship, and a highly skilled, highly innovative workforce. CellMark Paper executives recognized the mill’s potential and began working with Wisconsin businessman William “Butch” Johnson to reopen the facility. They were convinced it could produce high-quality paper, with real customer value, in an environmentally friendly way.
Armed with a multi-pronged plan to dramatically reduce energy costs, an increased focus on sustainability and environmental stewardship, and a streamlined list of products, CellMark and Johnson reopened the facility, now called Flambeau River Papers, after only three months. Moreover, they brought back all employees who wished to return (about 93 percent) — and did so at the same pay.
Today, FRP is one of the “greenest” pulp and paper mills in the world. It is chlorine free, and complies with ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, the world’s foremost quality and environmental standards. Moreover, the facility is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Again, extremely vigilant employees deserve credit; they understand their role in the mill’s success, and strive for continuous improvement in their processes and technologies.
Additionally, FRP is profitable, and on more solid footing than ever. Thanks in large part to employee-driven programs, the mill saves $7 million on energy — every year. After originally scrapping to keep the three machines running, backlogs are now extremely healthy and the customer base continues to grow. CellMark, as part of its unique relationship with FRP, handles all of the mill’s sales and marketing, and provides a significant amount of the fiber it uses.
Additionally, FRP ownership has recently secured financing for a $270 million biorefinery, which will be built adjacent to the mill. The facility will burn woody biomass to produce 17 million gallons of clean-burning biodiesel and industrial wax annually.
Better still, the biorefinery will create more than 40 “green-collar” jobs, in addition to providing work for about 125 truckers and foresters. It is further solidifying the economy and the environment in the Wisconsin Northwoods, a region with relatively few opportunities. And, because all participants in the project adhere to sustainability practices, the projects are making the region’s forests healthier.