IP returning to Franklin

Published 10:59 am Wednesday, May 18, 2011

FRANKLIN, Va. – One year after International Paper opted to close its paper mill here, the company is coming back.

On Tuesday, IP officials announced plans to repurpose a portion of its shuttered mill in Isle of Wight County, creating approximately 200 jobs.

Production at the mill, which closed nearly a year ago and eliminated 1,100 jobs, is expected to start up in mid-2012 as a fluff pulp mill.

Fluff pulp is used in a variety of absorbent products (baby diapers, adult incontinence products, feminine hygiene products, etc.) and in airlaid products such as cleaning and baby wipes.

“You should start seeing activity fairly soon with the ramping up of equipment,” said Donna Wadsworth, communications manager for IP in Ticonderoga, N.Y. “We’ll be ramping up to full staffing by next spring.”

IP is expected to invest $83 million in repurposing a portion of the Franklin facility as a fluff pulp mill. The plant will be capable of annually producing up to 270,000 metric tons of high quality fluff pulp for the global market.

Wadsworth said the employment opportunities in the fluff pulp mill would be manufacturing and production jobs similar to ones used before the facility shut down last year. Pay would be competitive and hiring would be based on skills.

“We have wonderfully skilled people in the area,” Wadsworth said. “We look forward to working with them. We will be hiring on a mill needs basis and will certainly consider the skills of former employees as part of the process.”

A number of factors influenced IP’s decision to locate a fluff pulp mill in Franklin, including:  a skilled local workforce; the condition of the mill’s current assets; a wide range of transportation options; and the availability of US southern pine in the region. The unique fiber length and absorption properties of this species makes it ideal for producing high quality fluff pulp.

“With roughly ninety percent of the world’s fluff pulp made from US southern pine, this is a great opportunity to use a distinctively American material to produce a globally competitive product,” said Mark Sutton, International Paper Senior Vice-President of Printing and Communications Papers the Americas.

Sutton went on to say that IP is currently the third largest global supplier of fluff pulp.

“This investment gives us greater participation in a growing market,” he said.

“The Franklin fluff pulp facility will be 89 percent energy self-sufficient, utilizing power generated from carbon-neutral biomass on-site.  The capability of producing energy from renewable biomass resources makes the remaining portions of the Franklin Mill site an ideal location for other partners looking for on-site green energy options,” Sutton added.

One such potential partner is Franklin Pellets LLC. That company is looking at a portion of the IP facility for its wood pellet manufacturing operation. Plans for the proposed operation were announced last month.