Monday, October 22, 2018

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Rolling along: Closure of two Kimberly-Clark paper plants in Wisconsin has little effect on Eau Claire’s profitable Cascades facility

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    Cascades Tissue Group employee Andrew Luebke labels a roll weighing more than 5,000 pounds that was manufactured Wednesday afternoon at the Eau Claire plant north of downtown on Forest Street. The product was headed for processing into paper towels. Papermaking first began at the site in 1882 and continues there today on an around-the-clock basis.

    Staff photo by Steve Kinderman
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    Cascades Tissue Group employee Ryan Williamson moves a roll weighing more than 5,000 pounds off a paper machine Wednesday afternoon at the Eau Claire plant. The product was headed for processing into paper towels.

    Staff photo by Steve Kinderman
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The planned closure of two Kimberly-Clark Corp. manufacturing plants in eastern Wisconsin doesn’t appear to directly affect an Eau Claire paper products manufacturer, but its impact on a city company that produces adult diapers is less certain.  

Last week, Irving, Texas-based Kimberly-Clark, known for its Kleenex and Huggies brands, announced plans to reduce its workforce by 12 to 13 percent, or 5,000 to 5,500 jobs, and to close or sell about 10 manufacturing facilities. 

As part of that plan, the company said it plans to shut down two Wisconsin plants, one in Neenah and one in Cold Spring. The Neenah plant is scheduled to close within 18 months, while no date has been set for the Cold Spring plant. Those actions would put about 600 employees out of work. 

The Neenah factory produces nonwoven products used to make diapers, while Depend adult diapers and other personal care products are produced at the Cold Spring site. 

The Cascades Tissue Group plant in Eau Claire, which employs about 250, produces toilet paper, paper towels and napkins, and is not a direct competitor with the Kimberly-Clark products produced at plants announced to be closed, Cascades officials said Wednesday. 

“The Kimberly-Clark shutdown doesn’t really affect us because that is not our market,” said Rick Parr, mill manager at the Eau Claire Cascades plant.

The Kimberly-Clark shutdowns could have a bigger impact on Drylock Technologies in Eau Claire. The Belgium-based company bought the National Presto Industries absorbent products division last year and produces the same product type as the two mills set to be closed at its north side Eau Claire facility. 

Drylock Technologies officials declined to comment on the possible impact of the pending Kimberly-Clark closures. 

Whether the two Wisconsin Kimberly-Clark mills do close remains uncertain. Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Democrats are proposing measures to provide the company with incentives to keep those facilities open. 

Other Kimberly-Clark mills not affected by the shutdown so far produce toilet paper, paper towels, napkins and other paper products under the Scott tissue brand. If those mills are affected by Kimberly-Clark cutbacks, it could impact Cascades, potentially increasing product demand for goods produced by the Montreal-based company, said Bob Decker, Cascades Tissue Group general manager. 

The Eau Claire Cascades mill specializes in private-label products that compete with name brands such as Scott tissue, he said.  

“If a brand’s presence in the market shrinks, it certainly leaves room in the market for private labels like us to expand,” Decker said.

Parr and Decker said while the tissues market is competitive and continues to undergo rapid change, Cascades has a strong place in the private label market, and the Eau Claire mill remains viable.

“The Eau Claire plant is profitable, and I don’t see that changing,” Parr said. 

Parr said he is sympathetic to the workers displaced by Kimberly-Clark shutdowns. Ten years ago the NewPage paper mill in Kimberly where Parr worked closed, leaving him jobless. He subsequently relocated to Eau Claire to take a job at Cascades. 

“I feel for those workers,” Parr said. “You have a job; then one day it’s gone. It’s tough to pick up and start over.”

Contact: 715-830-5911, 

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