Despite rosy market, Camas facilities closed for good
The domestic market for copy-machine paper is sizzling, and there's a huge demand for pulp to make paper in China since it banned imports of our recycled paper.
But Georgia-Pacific's pulp and copy paper-making operations in Camas, Washington, which shut down in May, won't be reopened, said Kristi Ward, spokeswoman for the mill across the Columbia River from Portland.
"As part of the business decision, there's no plans to sell the machinery," Ward said. "We do plan to, I guess, disassemble the machines."
Georgia-Pacific's move didn't shock those following the domestic paper industry, which has engaged in a string of mill closures that improved companies' bottom lines.
"This is what's happening in the industry," said Greg Pallesen, president of the Portland-based Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers union. "You can make more money by closing machines. You restrict supply, you drive the price up."
In January, Atlanta-based WestRock Co. inked a deal to sell its shuttered Newberg paper mill on condition that the buyer scrap the mill-making equipment. That contract recently expired, but it's unclear if the mill will ever reopen, despite Indian and Chinese paper manufacturers interested in buying that plant. (See related story on Page A1.)
Rahul Kejriwal, who handles acquisitions for the Indian company, also inquired about buying the Camas pulp and copy-paper facilities, Pallesen said.
"He has tried to correspond with them and he has heard zero back," the union leader said.
Kejriwal declined to comment.
Georgia-Pacific negotiated severance terms with Pallesen's union when it laid off its unionized workers. "They told us they will not have any discussions about selling the mill; they want to demolish it," Pallesen said.
Nevertheless, Pallesen supports reopening local mills to provide jobs for his laid-off members, and has collaborated with Kejriwal.
"Copy prices right now are at near-record prices," Pallesen said. "All manufacturers are sold out until the end of the year. There's so many closures, now you have shortages."
Ward conceded that prices are high now.
"There have been changes in the marketplace recently," she said. "But that hasn't changed the fact that demand for printing paper has been declining over a long period of time. We made the decision to close it because producing printing paper at Camas wasn't profitable for the long-term."
It likely will take two to three years to fully demolish the pulp and No. 20 paper machinery used to make copy paper, Ward said.
Georgia-Pacific, owned by Koch Industries, will continue making paper towels at the plant, whose plumes have been visible from Portland for decades.
Ironically, as U.S. paper companies close domestic operations, Asian buyers are trying to buy mills here. The Northwest boasts a trained labor force, access to clean water and cheap electricity. Most importantly, the region has the recycled paper and other sources of fiber to turn into pulp, which is used to make cardboard and other paper products.
One source with knowledge of the international paper industry said U.S. corporations are pursuing short-term profits, but shutting down their plants is "a road to death."