BIRON, Wisconsin (From news reports) -- The transformation of a 127-year-old paper mill in Biron is complete.
For decades, employees at the facility produced lightweight coated paper for magazines and catalogs. Now, workers create packaging grade paper made completely from recycled material.
"The Biron mill is a special place," where generations of families have worked, said Caleb Coder, the mill's manager and ND Paper Biron Division vice president.
"The mill is a cornerstone of the Wisconsin Rapids area," he said, "and we are honored to operate here in central Wisconsin."
Roughly 60 people, including Gov. Tony Evers and local leaders from Biron and Wisconsin Rapids, gathered Thursday at the mill, 621 N. Biron Drive, for the grand opening of a newly-built recycling facility that feeds the mills recently-converted paper machines.
The investments made by ND Paper, the mill's owner, are part of the company's vision to keep the facility operating for another century, and Thursday's grand opening marked a "significant milestone" for the mill, said Michael LaVerdiere, ND Paper's executive vice president and chief operating officer.
"Our pulp and paper industry is at the core of Wisconsin's economy," Evers told the crowd.
Despite challenges in recent years, "this industry continues to grow and be resilient and find new ways to stay on top," Evers said, "and that includes right here at this facility."
Shortly after buying the facility in 2018, ND Paper announced it would invest $189 million in the Biron mill. The company pointed to growth in packaging and e-commerce, as well as consumer demand for more sustainable products, for the changes it has made.
In 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, employees converted the B25 paper machine from making lightweight coated paper to producing brown paper for cardboard boxes, paper bags and other packaging materials.
Last month, the team finished converting the B26 machine, and the new on-site recycling facility was completed.
The Biron facility runs 24/7, and a lot of what is made at the mill is sent to ND Packaging -- ND Paper's sister company -- almost 200 miles southeast in Sturtevant, through a related trucking company, Dragon Express.
Biron began making paper in 1896 and was owned by Consolidated Papers Inc. for decades.
In 2000, Consolidated sold to Helsinki-based Stora Enso Oyj, who then sold to Ohio-based NewPage Corp., in 2007. The company filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2011 and announced plans to sell the company to Verso in 2014. Before that merger was finalized, though, NewPage sold its mills in Biron and Rumford, Maine, to Catalyst Paper Holdings, who then sold Biron to Nine Dragons Paper in 2018 for $175 million.
ND Paper is a subsidiary of Nine Dragons Paper (Holdings) Ltd., which is based out of Hong Kong. ND Paper itself is headquartered in Oak Brook, Illinois.
In addition to Biron, ND Paper owns facilities in Old Town and Rumford, Maine, and in Fairmont, West Virginia.