In the early days of Cloquet, the wood products mill in the east end of Cloquet was variously known as "the match mill" or "the toothpick factory," and it appears that the local plant is on track to return to its roots.
Rick Pomroy, plant manager for Jarden Home Brands' Cloquet mill, confirmed this week that a portion of the company's toothpick manufacturing business has returned to the local plant after being outsourced to China since 2006.
Company spokespeople would not confirm how long the toothpick manufacturing operation has been back in Cloquet, or whether the enhanced operation will lead to additional jobs.
In an article that appeared in the Oct. 10 edition of Time magazine, distributed to subscribers this week, author Bill Saporito reported that the plant's parent company, Jarden Corp. of Rye, N.Y., is at the forefront of a trend he referred to as "the rehab of American manufacturing." He explained that while basic goods sold by companies such as Jarden have been produced cheaply in China for decades, wages in that country are beginning to skyrocket at the same time shipping costs have increased.
According to the Time article, this year Jarden will "insource" some $100 million worth of goods to the Americas, about half of which will come to the United States -- including the return of the manufacture of flat toothpicks to the Cloquet plant where it first began.
Toothpicks were once a big-time share of the market for Jarden's Diamond Brands, whose roots in Cloquet grew out of the Berst-Forster-Dixfield Co. By the 1990s, as demand began to diminish, the local plant was one of the only toothpick factories remaining in the United States, turning out several billion a year until the company's decision to outsource their manufacture to China.
Jarden Home Brands' Cloquet facility also manufactures matches and a number of other wood products.
The Cloquet mill had as many as 233 employees in 2003 but the number has declined. The News Tribune reported in 2005 that the state had been notified of more than 100 expected layoffs from the mill, and the union that represented workers said they were due in part to outsourcing to China.
The Cloquet city website notes that Diamond Brands is famous for matchsticks and toothpicks, but they also make a number of other small, wooden products such as the sticks for ice cream bars. Diamond mostly makes its products by peeling a veneer off the lumber and stamping, milling and lathing differently shaped bits of wood off the veneer.