As the digital age blossomed and society has used less paper, companies like Sappi have had to evolve to stay in business.
“Successful businesses are able to balance continuous improvements in operating efficiency and developing new products to keep up with changes in the market,” said Tom Radovich, managing director of Sappi North America's Cloquet Mill. “This mill has done a good job of executing in both areas.”
And with 25 years of experience at the Cloquet Mill, Radovich has seen more than a few things in his time with the company. He was promoted to his current position in December, taking over after the previous managing director, Mike Schultz, was promoted.
Radovich has held leadership roles in operations, engineering and product development, he said. He led the conversion project for a new dry fiber building and the upgrade of the mill's PM4 former, a machine used to make paper.
In 2013, the company spent $170 million to convert the kraft pulp mill at its Cloquet site to dissolving wood pulp, said Radovich. Dissolving wood pulp is the main raw material used to produce rayon for clothing. The raw material is sent to countries overseas where it is transformed into cloth.
In May 2019, another $25 million capital project helped increased dissolving wood pulp production by 8%, Radovich said. The mill produces 400,000 tons of dissolving wood pulp annually.
“I don't think people realize we are one of 18 mills that make different products,” he said. Of those 18 facilities, only four are in North America.
Ray Higgins of the Minnesota Timber Producers Association said businesses like Sappi have had to face the reality that people are using less paper.
However, while paper consumption is down, the explosion of online ordering has created opportunities. Companies such as Amazon need boxes and brown paper to meet their packaging needs, Higgins said.
“There is growth in brown paper industries,” he said.
About the Sappi North America Cloquet Mill
- The late 1800s: Opens as Weyerhaeuser Lumber Company
- 1898: Becomes Northwest Paper Company, one of the company's two sites in Minnesota that manufacture newsprint
- 1968: Potlatch purchases the mill
- 2002: Sappi purchases the Potlatch Paper Division; the company idles the Brainerd mill
- Today: The mill employs 700 people in the Cloquet area and around 13,000 worldwide