From: Avi Stern The Post-Crescent, Appleton, WI
Published August 29, 2004 12:00 AM

Wisconsin papermaker says U.S. industry rapidly losing innovation and jobs

Art Rankin took his first job in the paper industry when he was 16. He's 68 now, several years retired from his role as technical director for the Appleton Coated Paper's Locks Mill.

In between those benchmarks stands a lifetime of dedication to the pulp-and-paper industry.

So when he says the sector's hard times aren't yet over, you can probably take him at his word.

"Quite frankly, most of the innovation in the paper industry does not come from the U.S. — most of the driving force has come from outside the country," he says.

Helsinki, Finland-based Stora Enso, for instance, "has done (machine) rebuild after rebuild," Rankin says. And while that's good news for the operation's facilities in Kimberly and Central Wisconsin, it nonetheless testifies to the fact that "they're looking at the future far more aggressively than most U.S. companies are."

"You don't have to be very astute to figure out that a whole lot of jobs have been lost, that the (domestic) industry is shrinking."

It's almost become cliche to report the statistics, but they're worth repeating: The Fox Cities manufacturing sector has lost more than 6,300 jobs in the past three years, the bulk from paper or paper-related mills. While non-manufacturing positions have replaced those lost positions, the new wages pay about $34,616 annually compared to the average $43,921 from the jobs lost, according to state statistics.

There's also gathering evidence to suggest that most Wisconsinites instinctively understand how this trend is reaching — and eroding — their personal quality of life. After two years of sampling state residents, the Madison-based Wisconsin Realtors Association recently released a survey that found:

— 54 percent agree strongly or somewhat that there are no opportunities for young people to find jobs in their area.
— 53 percent indicate that things have gotten worse for their employer due to the economy.
— 76 percent report that more job opportunities in their area would enhance their quality of life a great deal or somewhat.

When half the people in the state not only fear for their own jobs, but that of their children, you have legitimate reasons for concern. When three-quarters of them recognize job creation is the key to the future, you also boast a pretty clear — and bipartisan — roadmap for solutions.

Which brings us back to Art Rankin and his beloved paper industry.

Between Sept. 21-23, an estimated 700 paper industry leaders will converge on Appleton for a series of events — some technical, some nostalgic — called "Paper Days in the Paper Valley." Rankin would love to see some outsiders, some concerned citizens and, yes, even some industry skeptics take part in it as well.

"The paper industry has not seen the last of its bad days ... and it won't, until people wake up," he muses. "We need to raise the awareness about why the industry is so vital to the economy and the culture of the state of Wisconsin.

"It's time to ask ourselves, 'Will we go the way of the steel industry?' That sector's now non-existent. I don't want to stand quietly by as it happens here."

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(c) 2004, The Post-Crescent, Appleton, Wis.

Source: Knight Ridder

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