The industry was clearly fading. As a stand-alone mill, Park Falls did not have the global scale of the Kimberly-Clark Corp., which long ago had sold its publishing-grade mills and shifted to consumer paper products such as tissue and disposable diapers - a sector immune, so far, from Apple. Even schools in the Fox River Valley, home to some of the nation's largest printers of textbooks, were making the shift to digital ones.The remaining publishing-grade papers, for now, face competition from a not so surprising source.
Sue Seib first noticed the new threat when she worked at Wisconsin Paper, a wholesale distributor. The firm had begun buying paper on behalf of cost-conscious printers from an unlikely source: China.Optimal replanting rates are just a capitalist construct. Better to buy a generation of labor peace and rising living standards for the masses now, and let the next generation deal with the environmental decay?
"What amazed us," she said, "was that you could buy paper from a Chinese manufacturer, pay the shipping from China and all the way across the U.S. to Wisconsin, and it was less expensive than buying paper from a Wisconsin manufacturer."
From small engines to kitchen appliances, Wisconsin had grown accustomed to low-cost competition from China. But this one made little sense at all.
By all accounts, China has a severe shortage of trees.