Editor's Note: the following is a guest column sumbitted to DrydenWire.com from Representative Nick Milroy.
The forest product industry is of great importance to the State of Wisconsin. It provides numerous jobs to Wisconsinites and helps sustain both our economy and our forested land. I was saddened to hear that Verso Corporation has been forced to indefinitely stop production at its Duluth and Wisconsin Rapids paper mills. During these challenging times, it has been encouraging to see the many efforts by Governor Evers’ administration to support Verso, its hardworking employees, and the forest products industry.
The significance of this industry to Wisconsin cannot be overstated. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the forest products industry in Wisconsin provides over 63,000 full and part-time jobs. It ranks third in industry output in the state with a total output of more than $24 billion.
Wisconsin’s paper industry ranks first in the country in the number of paper mills, the number of employees and the value of products sold, according to a Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC)-sponsored study. The report also found that in 2018, Wisconsin’s paper industry directly generated over $18 billion in economic output and employed more than 30,000 workers, while its total contributions to the economy amounted to nearly $29 billion and over 95,000 jobs.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a dramatic decrease in demand for specialty paper products. Such products include the graphic paper that is produced at Verso’s historic Consolidated Papers mill in Wisconsin Rapids. Both the Duluth and Wisconsin Rapids paper mills will have stopped production indefinitely by the end of July, leaving at least 1,000 employees jobless. Of those that will be laid off, over 900 will come from the Wisconsin Rapids mill.
The paper mill’s uncertain future also puts Wisconsin’s forests at risk. Wisconsin’s forest product companies work to protect the wellbeing of our state’s forests through practices such as reforestation and continued research. Without a market for wood, there is a higher chance that those who own forest properties will choose to sell the land or develop the space.
I am greatly appreciative of the hard work that the WEDC, DNR, and Department of Workforce Development (DWD) have put into helping those impacted by production being stopped at this important paper mill. These state agencies have partnered with the Mid-State Technical College to retrain Verso employees. WEDC has also been working with Verso to explore options for long-term investment at the paper mill and reaching out to Wisconsin’s congressional leaders so necessary federal resources can be provided.
A strong forest product industry remains essential for the State of Wisconsin. Fully operating paper mills are instrumental to its continued success. At a time when many families are struggling with the realities of unemployment, it is devastating to see so many more hardworking Wisconsinites lose their jobs. There is still much work that must be done, but the efforts by state agencies to support the paper mill and its employees have brought me hope. I am confident that as long as we continue to invest our time, attention, and resources into addressing the challenges it is facing, the forest product industry will make it through these difficult times and continue to provide for our state.