Green Bay Innovation Group

Paper, Pulp and Converting Industry Summary

Paper, Pulp and Converting Industry Summary

Wisconsin Paper & Pulp Industry Update

In the 1970’s, the Paper and Pulp Industries employed close to 30,000 people in Wisconsin. Back then, paper mills had integrated pulp mills, plus certain in-house converting capabilities. Wisconsin had 20 paper and pulp facilities close down.

Marty Oaks

Now, in late 2023, the state has 8,194 employed in these industries. There are just a couple of paper companies with pulp production, plus some converting capabilities. Currently, most of the pulp comes from other states, Canada, and foreign companies. A considerable number of paper mills outsource their converting needs, or they simply provide mill rolls to converting companies.

Converters: 1. Cut rolls at the paper mill’s request; 2. For their own sales offerings; 3. Or conduct value-added steps for contracted customers.

According to a 2018 industry report, Wisconsin’s Pulp, Paper, and Converting Industries employed 30,262 workers, with sales of $18 billion. The report states that Wisconsin has twenty-four paper companies with thirty-four locations. Our GBIG research identified twenty-two paper companies with twenty-nine locations (See Attachment B). In addition, we have witnessed a number of paper mills being closed.

Based upon the Wisconsin industry report, paper and pulp mills generated $6.5 billion in output per year. Based upon a report from Stastista, the total annual revenue of paper and pulp mills in the USA is $38.2 billion in 2023. The 2018 report stated: The paper and pulp industry in Wisconsin employed 8,459 with 5,581 in Brown County.

Current Paper & Pulp: The Green Bay Innovation Group (GBIG) is conducting a comprehensive report making direct contact with the paper and pulp industries. We have determined that 8,194 people are employed in paper and pulp manufacturing companies in Wisconsin.

Paper Converting: Based upon the same report, paper converters employ approximately 19,265 people in Wisconsin. After reviewing the report, our analysis shows a substantial number of companies are not really converters for inclusion among paper products listings as direct converting “partners.” The report was based upon NAICS statistics which included everyone involved in converting. A case in point: label companies were included because they have converting capabilities.

If we simply identify true paper converters supporting the paper industry who take jumbo rolls, slit, rewind, provide sheeted products, and carry out other related services, we find fewer than 20. Part of the difference in estimates is due to varying definitions.

Our research has identified a much larger number of converters that provide value-added materials: 1. As outsourced by paper companies; or 2. As value-added steps by converters for their customers; or 3. They convert final finished products.

In addition, Wisconsin has a large number of converters who work with flexible films, labels, nonwovens, and non-paper substrates that are not naturally part of paper and pulp statistics.

We have defined converting as receiving raw materials on mill rolls and transforming them into value-added or finished products.

A Deeper Dive into Paper Stats

  • The average number of employees in a paper mill is 207.4 employees based upon IBISWORLD statistics.
  • A report from IBISWORLD cites the number of paper mills in the US as (129) as updated in late September 2023.
  • Based upon the IBIS World report, paper mill employees in the US is 43,556 in 2023. A report from Stastista states that the paper industry in the United States employed 48,364 people as of 2022. With this comparison, the number in the US is between 43,556 and 48,364.

The Wisconsin Industry 2018 report shows that the paper industry employment includes the Forestry Industry. Forestry employment is a separate category from paper. Additionally, we are witnessing the forest, logging and upstream industries supporting paper and pulp declining over 30-40%, and we expect the trend to continue with a major impact on employment. Unfortunately, there are very few pulp mills in Wisconsin producing virgin pulp and it is having a significant impact on the logging and forestry industries. There is still a need for virgin fiber to produce a wide variety of products. We have seen many companies using recycled pulp.

Past reporting in the Wisconsin Paper Industry cites the paper, pulp and converting industries having 30,262 workers.

COMING NEXT: For another perspective, the Green Bay Innovation team will be breaking out converting as a separate sector to show each facet of the overall paper and converting Industries.

Paper Industry Is Changing

Wisconsin is no longer a major player supplying printing papers, with no production of coated groundwood papers, coated free sheets, and the state is a minor player in uncoated free sheets. Printers, converters, and packagers are buying most of their papers outside of Wisconsin and turning to Europe, Asia, Indonesia, and South America.


Verso shut down the Wisconsin Rapids Paper and Pulp Mill, and current owner Billerud has no apparent intention of ever reopening to produce printing paper for the USA markets. At the present time, the majority of Wisconsin paper and pulp mills are foreign owned. Therefore, buyers are being forced to purchase paper from foreign paper mills, and foreign paper companies are determining the future of the Wisconsin paper and pulp industry.

  • We speculate that the state of Wisconsin paper, pulp, printing, packaging, converting and all the other supporting industries will have to consider the supply chain future. They will need to determine whether Wisconsin values in-state production of paper for the strong downstream industries.
  • Industry players will have to assess their related futures. With current geopolitical events, Wisconsin companies are at serious risk, being able to secure paper to support their businesses. Wisconsin has all the resources to support paper and pulp manufacturing. If Covid did not demonstrate a lesson about Supply Chain stresses, current geopolitical issues are now a big stressor for our paper and related industries. This industry is critical to the State of Wisconsin, with all the manufacturing dependent on it for regional and national security and prosperity.
View Marty’s full overview

Look for the Upcoming Summary on Converting

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