Sappi Fine Paper, which for more than a century has manufactured pulp for paper mills in the eastern Minnesota city of Cloquet, south of Duluth, is investing $170 million to convert its wood pulp manufacturing plant to serve the textile industry.
After completion, workers at the plant will transform wood pulp into a cellulose fiber that will be manufactured into rayon used in a variety of products. Plant officials said the transformation would allow the plant to save the jobs of its 760 employees.
Mike Schultz, plant conversion project manager, said plant officials were being proactive and were not going to wait until their paper pulp operation got into trouble. "I think, if we weren't doing this, there may have been five, maybe 10 years left in this mill, he said. Sappi hopes to have the mill fully converted and begin shipping chemical cellulose, also called dissolved pulp, to textile mills by next year.
"Paper demand is not as strong, particularly for the higher grade of paper made at the mill," said Wayne Brandt, executive vice president of Minnesota Forest Industries, a trade group. "That has been largely driven by the recession and somewhat by the electronic distribution of information."