Sappi Paper re-tools for a new product

A huge pulp mill in Cloquet today marked a $170 million conversion to producing a new kind of product.  The investment in Sappi Fine Papers is expected to keep the mill viable for years to come.

Sappi officials announced in 2011 they would convert the mill from making paper into manufacturing a purer form of cellulose known as dissolving pulp. Sappi sells the product mostly to Asian companies that turn it into textiles like rayon. Deece Hannigan, Vice President of Procurement and Fiber Resources, said it also can be made into everything from wet wipes to milk shake thickeners, “a wide range of products that you would never have thought would have come from a tree.”

Sappi officials said the market for the new product is expected to grow at a 6 percent clip.  At the same time, the paper market is shrinking 3 to 4 percent a year.

The mill is Cloquet’s largest employer. Mayor Bruce Ahlgren said the investment is reassuring, at a time when other mills across the state have closed in recent years.

“The impact is on 750 families and spending all that money within the area, but then you put in $170 million into a mill, that means this mill is going to be here many, many decades to come,” Ahlgren said.

The mill opened in 1899.