The $170 million "Project Athena" is complete and Sappi Fine Paper Managing Director Rick Dwyer is retiring. Dwyer has been replaced by Mike Schultz, a former mill managing director who directed the recently completed conversion project, which transformed Cloquet's pulp mill from producing hardwood kraft pulp to chemical cellulose. It was the largest capital investment in Cloquet since the $500 million former Potlatch mill expansion here in the 1990s.

Schultz is excited.

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"Given the completion of Project Athena and our entrance into the new global business it brought, coupled with the new business model for our paper side, it is not simply a return to the familiar for me except that I get to work with the same great people at the mill who consistently work hard to make the mill successful in every measure," Schultz said. "That certainly makes my job easier.  I am very excited by this opportunity and the bright future for Sappi in Cloquet." 

With the conversion complete and successful, the mill is now converting wood to a purer form of cellulose fiber (also known as dissolving wood pulp) than it previously did to make paper. That type of pulp can then be further processed into viscose staple fiber -- and shipped in bulk to mostly Asian countries -- to make textiles like rayon, which can be made into cosmetics, pharmaceutical binders, diapers, cigarette filters, bandages, ingredients for ice cream and yogurt, and even the screens on cell phones and computers.

The conversion will keep the mill (and the larger company) viable and competitive in a time of shrinking demand for paper but increasing demand for chemical cellulose products.

Dwyer retires after 30 years in the paper industry.

John Donahue, vice president of manufacturing for Sappi Fine Paper North America, announced Dwyer's retirement with mixed feelings in a press release issued Friday.

"Under Rick's leadership, the Cloquet mill achieved record production and we will miss his passion, wealth of knowledge and superior leadership," Donahue said.

Dwyer joined Sappi in 2007 as managing director of Sappi's former Muskegon Mill and transferred to the Cloquet mill in January 2012. During his tenure, Dwyer faced the twin challenges of the June 2012 flood and in leading the mill during the Cloquet conversion project.

"I have really enjoyed my time at the Cloquet mill," Dwyer said. "It has been exciting to see all the improvements made throughout the organization. I wish the mill team all the best.  Everyone has worked hard and I know they will be successful."

Schultz has been with the Cloquet mill for years, starting some 23 years ago. He played a key role in the original capital project to build the Cloquet pulp mill in the 1990s, and subsequently worked as pulp production manager and managing director. Most recently, he successfully completed the Cloquet Conversion Project as its managing director.

"I know that Mike Schultz's expertise, thorough knowledge of the Cloquet mill and relentless pursuit of excellence will help bring the mill to new levels of success as it continues to produce world-class coated paper and specialty pulp," Donahue said.

Sappi Fine Paper North America is a pre-eminent North American producer of coated fine and release papers, as well as dissolving wood pulp (DWP) and market kraft pulp and is headquartered in Boston, Mass. Its coated fine papers -- with highly recognized brand names such as McCoy, Opus, Somerset and Flo -- are used in premium magazines, catalogs, books and high-end print advertising.

Sappi globally is the world's largest manufacturer of dissolving wood pulp. Sappi Fine Paper North America, through the recent conversion of the Cloquet pulp mill, manufactures dissolving pulp under Sappi's Specialised Cellulose division primarily for the textile markets.