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Thu, Sep 16, 2021 11:47
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Update: Neenah Paper closing Appleton mill

APPLETON, Wisc. (From news reports) -- Georgia-based Neenah Paper announced Friday it plans to cease operations at its mill in Appleton. A statement provided by Neenah Paper Friday night said the Appleton facility "will remain open for approximately 60 days." A previous statement said Neenah Paper expected to close the facility by the end of September.

"Closing a facility is always a difficult decision and not one we take lightly," Neenah President/CEO Julie Schertell said in the earlier statement Friday morning. "This decision is not a reflection of our employees or their efforts, as the team has consistently worked hard to overcome obstacles, improve safety and drive results. We'll continue to provide innovative filtration solutions and serve customers from our other manufacturing facilities in Europe and North America."

It's the second blow to the papermaking industry in the Fox Valley in a month, coming after news that Clearwater Paper Company is closing its Fox Crossing plant, which employs almost 300 people, as it gets out of the home tissue business.

Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson reacted, "I think a lot of people continue to get frustrated. They are upset and rightfully so. A lot of times these jobs cannot be replaced."

The Appleton facility makes the media for filters used in transportation, such as air or oil filters.

The company writes, "While these actions were necessary, we continue to invest in our Wisconsin facilities as we work to build a company that will meet the current and future expectations of our customers."

The company is planning to restart idled lines for fine paper and packaging at its Neenah plant. It also plans to invest $13 million in developing liner coatings to build up its specialty coatings business. Neenah Paper makes specialty paper, premium paper and packaging.

Neenah says it will release more details next month with its second-quarter earnings report.

"It's always profits over people," Nelson remarked, "and look at the collateral damage: It's the working class families here in Appleton and Outagamie County."

And the employees who've been loyal to the industry for decades.

Outside the Appleton mill's entrance, a plaque is still attached to the brick wall marking its history as the Fox River Paper Company established in 1883, and the lettering on a smokestack at the mill still reads "Fox River Paper Co."

"We need to look at who built these paper mills. you know? Who made this industry what it is today? And that's the working men and women of this community," said Nelson.

Neenah Paper estimates it will lose $50 million to $51 million in one-time closure costs and charges as a result of closing the plant, but it will improve the company's earnings $7 million to $8 million a year before interest, taxes and depreciation.

"I'm confident these footprint changes will unlock immediate value for our shareholders as we continue to transform Neenah into a faster growing, more profitable company. We remain focused on investing for growth, maintaining a strong balance sheet and providing meaningful shareholder returns," Schertell wrote in Friday morning's statement.

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