Sappi breaks ground on $170 million Cloquet plant project

There's been a paper mill in Cloquet for more than 110 years. Now, a massive investment in new technology at the Sappi Fine Paper mill should keep the mill operating in Cloquet for years to come.

There's been a paper mill in Cloquet for more than 110 years. Now, a massive investment in new technology at the Sappi Fine Paper mill should keep the mill operating in Cloquet for years to come.

Dignitaries were out in force Friday morning for the official groundbreaking at the Sappi Fine Paper mill as everyone from Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar to Sappi North America President and CEO Mark Gardner spoke about the importance of the $170 million project.

"The mill has provided generations of families a good living here in Cloquet," Ahlgren said. "My mother worked here, my uncles and my cousins worked here. I worked here as a vacation replacement. ... This is a tremendous investment, and it ensures a strong future for the company, its employees, their families and our community,

"On behalf of the people of Cloquet, we thank you for your vision and your commitment to our community."

Plans were announced in November to convert the existing kraft pulp mill from making pulp to production of chemical cellulose, a purer form of cellulose that can be made into a fabric for clothing, wet wipes and other consumer products. It is the largest investment Sappi has made in North America in some time, and the largest investment at the mill itself since the $500 million former Potlatch mill expansion here in the 1990s. The new cellulose production is set to start in May 2013.


Sappi is already the world's largest manufacturer of chemical cellulose out of its Saiccor mill in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, which underwent an expansion and modernization earlier this year. Following the conversion of Sappi's Cloquet mill, Sappi's total chemical cellulose capacity will grow to over 1.3 million metric tons per year.

The relatively new pulp mill is part of the reason Sappi chose to invest in Cloquet.

"This is the most modern hardwood kraft mill in the United States," Gardner said. "And the particular way this pulp mill was designed will help facilitate the conversion."

Other factors that favored Cloquet were the "wood basket," or the kind, availability and cost of wood in this region, as well as the employees at the Cloquet mill.

"The people here are superb," he said. "They make a very high quality and high consistency pulp. We look at work force skill, raw materials and assets. All three are very strong here."

Gardner talked about how many ways chemical cellulose is used, ranging from textiles to food and beverage products to health and beauty items.

"It's even in the communication devices we all use every day," he told the crowd of approximately 150 people gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony.

DNR Commissioner Tim Landwehr spoke about the abundant natural resources in Minnesota and praised Sappi for the company's stewardship of Minnesota's land and water, from using third-party certified lumber, to the recirculation and conservation of water at the mill. He commended Sappi for being innovative as well.


"When one part of the market declined, Sappi found another way to use those resources," he said, talking about the current and past transformations at the mill.

The company does not anticipate the conversion will impact the number of jobs at the Cloquet mill, which currently totals approximately 780.

Sen. Klobuchar applauded both the vision of the mill's executives and the dedication of its workers.

"We believe we can make things in this country and that's exactly what this project is all about," Klobuchar told the crowd.

Related Topics: CLOQUET
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