Green Bay Innovation Group

Wisconsin Converting Industry Summary

Wisconsin Converting Industry Summary

In late 2023, GBIG cited sources as having 8,244 employed in Wisconsin’s pulp and paper industries. Some in those industries have certain in-house converting capabilities. However, a considerable number of paper mills outsource their converting needs by providing mill rolls to independent converting companies.

Converting Background

Susan Stansbury

The converting industry is typically underrated because its statistics are often wrapped into paper industry data; but that also does not recognize segment like film/plastics and nonwovens. Converters are frequently contract manufacturers, so it is not generally known how many products and brands are made for large consumer marketers. Private ownership and numbers of small business sizes add to the unrealized details. One recent study, in our opinion, left out at least half of the data.

The “Converting CorridorTM” from Green Bay to Milwaukee boasts logistics support, from inventory assistance to management of shipment schedules. Experience by nearby software, engineering, parts, and machining companies keeps the industry moving. These local suppliers understand industry; after all, Wisconsin is second only to Indiana as a manufacturing state. What affects converting, affects all these associated companies in the “corridor” and converting throughout the state.

The Converters:

  1. Cut and slit rolls at the paper mill’s request
  2. Manufacture for their own sales offerings and brands
  3. Conduct value-added steps for contracted customers

Based upon a recent 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, even if they merely buy mill rolls or often use other substrates such as plastics and nonwovens. Additionally, label companies were included because they may have converting capabilities. Arguably, label companies’ capabilities include converting and other processes.

If we simply identify paper converters that support the paper industry taking jumbo rolls to 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 independent converters that provide value-added materials: A. As outsourced by paper companies; or B. As value-added steps by converters for their customers; or C. They convert final finished products.

Wisconsin has many converters who work with substrates including films/plastics, nonwovens, labeling materials, and other non-paper or laminated 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. Some examples of how the converting process may include a single or multiple manufacturers are shown below.

Food for thought

  • Wisconsin has been known as resource rich: As the top papermaking state; as a powerhouse in flexographic and other printing; having a strong presence in nonwovens with wipes producers and related supplies—the state has been strong in terms of meeting market demands.
  • During the pandemic we saw delays in certain materials, which presented supply problems. For example, mask components. Because of this, the industry began rethinking its sources of supply and has made more of its own investments to manufacture a wider array and expanded output of parts, materials, and finished products.
  • 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.
  • With the paper industry becoming weaker in terms of Wisconsin strength and with non-local ownership continuing to erode Wisconsin and U.S. industry leadership, this also impacts the converting industry.

Converters are making choices that were not required in years past. They include:

  • Seeking new sources of supply nationally & internationally
  • Changing some materials due to short supplies and supply chain issues
  • Realizing price increases due to reduced production of key materials

GBIG has identified converting factories in these areas:

  • Independent Converting – 69 Companies
  • Cartoning with in-house Converting –16 Companies
  • Nonwovens Converting – 13 Companies
  • Corrugated Converting – 41 Companies
  • Envelopes Converters – 2 Companies
  • Flexible Packaging Converting – 38 Companies
  • Label Printers & Converters – 69 Companies
  • Paper Mills Converting in-house – 13 Mills

Total: 261 for Converting in Wisconsin

  • Commercial Printers Converters – 30 estimated
  • Packaging Converting – 53 Companies

Total of Both: 344

  • Also: Based upon our industry experience, we would estimate that Commerical Printers with in-house Converting Capabilities: 30 to 50 plus companies.
  • Several companies convert a mix of cartons, corrugated, flexible packaging, and labels!

Authors: Marty Ochs and Susan Stansbury

Green Bay Innovation Group

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