Wausau Paper reported its human resources team will visit with local and state WorkForce officials next week to examine programs to assist displaced workers.
When the sale of the color brands was first reported in early 2011, Perry Grueber, Wausau Paper director investor relations, said the sale wasn’t expected to negatively affect the Brainerd work force. The Brainerd mill was already on the path to convert to making specialty paper to produce masking tape instead of the familiar white and color printing paper for business and home consumers.
“As we started 2012 and announced our exit from the print and color business, we set in place a supply agreement with the purchaser of our print and color brands based on a fixed quantity of production,” Grueber said. “As our mill in Brokaw, Wis., was closed soon after that announcement, all future print and color production by us was to have occurred at Brainerd — and has.
“Unexpectedly, however, the company that purchased these brands accelerated their orders, concentrating nearly all of this contractual production in the first nine months of 2012, rather than the 24 month 2012-2013 time frame we expected.”
Grueber said the result accelerated the conclusion of print and color production at the Brainerd mill faster than expected.
“At that time our expectation was that base line staffing at the mill could be managed through the normal pace of retirements, attrition and job reassignments as we transitioned fully to a technical specialty roll operation — which has an inherently smaller workforce,” Grueber said. “The weak global economy has also played a significant role in a slower than expected full transition to technical specialty grades at the mill.”
Thursday, Wausau Paper announced it was ending its print paper production at the Brainerd mill and laying off 48 hourly and seven salary employees.
There has been a history of making paper in the Brainerd mill stretching back more than 100 years, stretching back to Northwest Paper and then Potlatch.
Northwest Paper Co. established the mill in Brainerd in the first years of the 20th century. The mill was shut down in 1911, dismantled in 1914 and re-established on the Mississippi River’s east side, opening in 1917.
The Brainerd mill also closed for nine months during the Great Depression, transforming itself from making newsprint to making wallpaper.
On March 18, 2001, Potlatch announced the sale of its printed papers division and the closing of the Brainerd mill and the Cloquet pulp and paper mill, putting nearly 616 people out of work.
Potlatch made the sales agreement with South African-based Sappi Limited for the Cloquet mill and related assets for $480 million in cash. A non-compete clause was attached preventing coated paper-making in Brainerd. The mill closed in 2002.
Missota Paper was created in February of 2003 in order to buy the mill. Missota Paper bought the mill from Potlatch for $4.44 million and hired about 160 workers, mostly former Potlatch employees. By November of 2003, Missota was in an extended shutdown.
Wausau Paper completed its $9.6 million purchase of Missota Paper Co. in Brainerd in the fall of 2004 and announced plans to hire 135 workers. While Missota wasn’t successful, it was created with keeping the mill going, which enabled the much larger Wausau Paper’s entry to the region to keep the mill open.