With two mills shuttered, two others headed down the same road, and over 1,500 jobs lost in the past two years alone, Maine’s paper industry has seen better days. Paper production still accounts for over $270 million in wages annually, and provides over $8 billion dollars in total annual impact for Maine’s economy. Without paper, Maine’s economy would essentially collapse. Last month, in an attempt to save the floundering industry, the Maine Pulp and Paper Association hosted a wide-ranging, first-of-its-kind summit in Bangor.
“Refreshing Through Innovation”
Nearly three hundred industry stakeholders gathered at the “Refreshing Through Innovation” conclave, hoping to find solutions to the industry’s struggles. A number of challenges were examined, with potential solutions coming from far and wide.
Among the biggest challenges to Maine’s paper industry are the state’s high energy costs—double those in some other paper-producing states. Director of the Maine State Energy Office Patrick Woodcock hopes working with other states in the region to increase his state’s natural gas capacity will help reduce energy prices. “The governors in New England are united to become the cleanest and most competitively priced region in North America,” Woodcock stated. “I think that’s the goal and I think we can achieve that.”
Another significant obstacle—and an ironic one—is Maine’s high wood fiber prices. Despite being one of America’s most heavily forested states, the available timber supply is low due to minimal harvesting in many areas. Eric Kingsley, an economist specializing in forest resources, aims to open up the southern half of the state to more lumber harvesting. “Connecting with those landowners, finding the right professionals to [operate tree farms on the land], and getting that wood to market is certainly a great opportunity,” Kingsley stated.
A third hurdle is the high cost of the actual paper production process. Skilled and/or experienced workers in the industry rightfully earn high wages, and the industry requires a massive workforce—from those tending the trees to paper mill production staff to the truck drivers who deliver the finished product. A single piece of paper processing equipment can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars; pre-owned equipment resellers like Asset Liquidity can alleviate these costs somewhat, but equipment costs still represent a substantial investment.
Support from the Right Places
Dr. Dave Zumeta, keynote speaker at “Refreshing Through Innovation” and the man behind Minnesota’s recent successful efforts to revive that state’s paper industry, stated that in order to replicate the Land of 10,000 Lakes’ results, a broad coalition of support is needed. The summit indeed brought in supporters of all stripes, including Maine lawmakers from all parties, economists, and other concerned parties.
“Maine’s economy isn’t going to be strong without a strong forest products industry,” said Maine’s Senate President, Republican Mike Thibodeau, adding, “We have some tremendous assets to build on.”