Jobs continue to leave Wisconsin as paper industry struggles

A new study revealed that Wisconsin's middle class experienced the largest decline in the entire country from 2000-2013. Some economists relate that staggering statistic to the fact that manufacturing jobs have been dealt a significant blow in recent years.

Just in the last three months, three paper companies in the Fox Valley announced devastating news for many. First, Appvion in Appleton filed for bankruptcy, leaving about 1,000 jobs in limbo.

Then, Appleton Coated in Combined Locks announced they're looking for a buyer. That put about 600 employees on the sidelines, waiting.

"I truly believed that I was going to retire at Appleton Coated," one employee said. "Now, I know sitting here today that may not be possible."

Most recently, U.S. Paper Converters in Grand Chute closed, leaving 52 people without a job.

For Michael MacDonald, every announcement of another paper mill closing hits him hard. He spent over 33 years at Appleton Coated. Now, he's looking for a job.

"I never thought that at 58 years old, I'd be sitting without a job," he told NBC26. "I was angry, that this happened."

MacDonald is not alone: some economist say that since the year 2000, about 20 percent of manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin have been eliminated. That's about 90,000 jobs.

"I'm out every week looking at jobs, and I'm going on interview and I'm presenting myself the best way I can, and it's difficult," said MacDonald.

In a 2014 report from the Workforce Development Board, they found the majority of dislocated workers from a central Wisconsin paper mill found new employment after 20 weeks of looking.

"In this day and age, companies are certainly willing to train if they get people with a good work ethic and some experience," said one representative from the Workforce Development Board.

When those mill workers found a job, they also earned about 10 percent less than their former positions.

The argument as to why mills are closing in Wisconsin is up for debate. However, many believe it has much to do with cheap imports of paper from China and the digital revolution.

"The state of the paper mills is that they're struggling," they said. "The industry has changed tremendously. People don't go to libraries anymore."

For now, folks in Wisconsin who gave their entire careers to paper mills will have to wait and see what the future holds for an industry that for 150 years helped build the state.

Looking for work? Here are some resources:

Print this article Back to Top