Paper Discovery Center in Appleton, Wisconsin, connecting industry and community
Facility passing on the paper tradition
April 2, 2012
An industry that employs more than
56,000 people across state, producing $16.2 billion in goods is far from dying,
those with a connection to the industry say.
But with an aging workforce and a
limited pipeline of people lining up to replace them, some of the business
sector's veterans say more efforts are needed to spark interest, particularly
among youths, to show stable and innovative careers still can be found in an
area of manufacturing that's centuries old.
The Paper Discovery Center, which
houses the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame, has served as a bridge
between the community and industry since its doors opened in February 2005. In
recent years, the center has stepped up its outreach efforts to bring in more
school groups and host community events, expanding the audience who can see
that there is more to papermaking than many realize.
"People see us or think of us
and they see a museum with displays," said Alan Button, a longtime paper
industry executive, who now runs Buttonwood Consulting.
Button, who also serves as vice
chairman Paper Industry International Hall of Fame board, said there is plenty
to discover at the center.
"One of our staffers has a
chemical engineering background and spent a long time in research for
Kimberly-Clark Corp.," he said. "The resources we have here really
know (about papermaking)."
As school-aged children are bought
into the center, they aren't just given a tour of the facility. Educational
programs are designed to showcase the science behind papermaking.
The goal is to inspire youths to become
interested in science, Button said.
"We also want to help kids get
an understanding of the industry," he said. "What they seem to always
hear about is how the industry is dying and mill closures."
But opportunities exist, despite the
consolidation happening in the business today.
"We really want kids to get
interested in this profession," Button said. "The center allows us to
show the connection it has with this region."
The American Forest & Paper
Association data shows forest and paper industry still makes a significant
impact on Wisconsin's economy.
The association reports about 56,533
people work in the industry, including about 32,431 in the pulp and paper
business. There are more than 260 paper-industry manufacturing facilities
operating across the state today, including 38 pulp, paper and paperboard mills
as well as 195 converted paper products facilities.
The state's paper industry has taken
hits from consolidation and growing foreign competition but has found ways to
innovate and find new markets.
Thilmany Papers in Kaukauna carved a
niche through its work with food giant ConAgra. Thilmany developed a specialty
paper for ConAgra, which the food maker used for a pop-up popcorn bowl bag, used
today in many of its lines for its popular Orville Redenbacher brand.
The innovative bag received a 2011
AmeriStar Package Award from the Institute of Packaging Professionals.
Papermaker Appleton helped Procter
& Gamble make its liquid fabric softener Downy work better. P&G used
Appleton's microencapsulation technology, a process where solid, liquid or
gaseous materials are encased in micro-sized shells or capsules, to make
clothing treated with Downy hold its freshly laundered scent longer.
The technology also has been adapted
by New Jersey-based Troy Corp., a maker of specialty materials and additives,
for a biocide additive used in paints, architectural coatings and mortar
formulations. This means if mixed with paint, it will make that product more resistant
to mold and mildew.
Button said the paper industry's
science has many other applications but the industry struggles to get people
interested in the profession.
"It's a problem for the
industry," he said. "It's important to reach kids early and get them
interested in the science. When you can show them the things like how
sustainability plays into it, it may spark some interest."
Assorted applications for consumer
products and utilizing proven science to enhance items in other industries is
an area just beginning to be tapped by the paper industry, Button said.
Youths need to be shown the business
is far from dying, he said.
"A lot of people working in the
industry today (are in their mid-50s)," Button said. "The paper
industry is not going away when you think about the consumer products and
packaging aspects and it scares me the industry struggles to find people to
Kathleen Lhost, executive director
of the Paper Discovery Center, said between 5,000 and 6,000 students visit the
center annually. In 2010-11, 5,355 students visited the center, an increase
from 4,326 in 2008-09.
"We think if we can get kids
interested at the elementary level thinking science and that it's actually fun
and not scary, we could spark their interest and peak their curiosity,"
Last April, the Paper Discovery
Center hosted an Arbor Day event, which offered plenty of interactive
activities. Attendees were given free pine tree seedlings and treated to
hands-on learning activities including paper recycling.
"The paper industry's
technology and science and innovation always has worked to find new ways to use
old things," Lhost said. "The science can help find ways to make
The center also has hosted other
community events, providing opportunities to expose more people to the center's
Button said the center's resources
have much to offer.
"With more people coming to the
riverfront, we have some possibilities," he said.
"We are starting to see this as
more of a community resource as opposed to just a center that caters to the
paper industry. It's becoming more important for us to transition into a
community space, get our story out there that we're not just about the paper