Domtar to invest $51 million in new pilot program at Hawesville mill
Domtar announced they will be investing $51 million into upgrading equipment at the 50-year-old Hawesville mill, with 400 jobs remaining in Hancock County. They will be repurposing one of the 2 paper machines (pulpers) to produce fiber-based, biodegradable products such as earth-friendly “plastic” bags, as well as continuing to make fine paper products.
KY Governor Andy Beshear announced on Wednesday, May 17th, that nearly $4.3 million in funding and credits will be invested toward workforce training to over 19,000 workers in the commonwealth, as one of many initiatives he’s made in his goal for continuous growth in KY industry.
Beshear also stated publicly last week that he’s excited to see Domtar thrive and grow in Hancock County, and that the company has, “successfully produced sustainable paper in KY for decades and is positioned for even more growth in the future with this modernization.”
Domtar has partnered with the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority to replace the current pulper at the Hawesville mill with a modernized one. Their goal is to produce “innovative fiber-based products that are growing in demand,” Mill Manager Murray Hewitt said. “It promotes stable employment and maintains the Hawesville mill’s standing as a pillar of the community that it has served for over 50 years.”
Hewitt talked with a Clarion reporter further stating that the photo copy paper they make for businesses, schools and homes is a declining market, and they are always looking for ways to plan for conversions as the demand decreases. “This investment that we’ll be doing,” he said, “is significant and it’s a conversion effort on one of our paper machines so that we can build a product that can compete in today’s market with plastic bags.
A couple of years ago, there was a competition called Beyond the Bag and Domtar was one of the winners of that contest. We’re developing a technology that will take a fiber based product that will compete with and maybe even replace plastic bags. It’ll have the characteristics, to some extent, of plastic and is a biodegradable product.
It’s still early in the phase. We believe that we’ve got a good design and product, but obviously the proof will be in the pudding once we see the end product. We have some ability to put the product out there today through small batch effort. Then, by mid to end of 2025, I think we’ll see a pretty significant amount of product on the market.
It’s really a repurposing of a paper machine, so it’s the same people (workers at Hawesville mill), and the same number of people. But, it would be a new grade development and maintaining the jobs we have today.”
Of the two, Hewitt said they’ll be converting one of the machines for making the new product. “We will still use wood products,” he said. “We’re excited. I think it’s great for our employees. We’re in fourth generation employees here in Hawesville. The mill started up in the late 60s, and we believe that this type of technology ensures a long future for our mill. The investment that the company is putting into us – Domtar obviously respects the mill and is encouraged by our employees, so I think getting this type of a dollar investment in today’s market is pretty significant. We’re very happy about that and really kind of blessed in the sense that it’s a product not only of the mill, but it’s a product of the people.”
Domtar Human Resources Manager, Jason Curry, said: “I think people in the community need to understand that we may be in a declining market, but it makes us, as long as we’re competitive from a cost standpoint, we continue to get market sharing and we position ourselves for the long term, to be here for a very long time. We try to stress that with our employees and we want everybody in the community to know that too.”
Hewitt added, “We’ve hired about 100 people in the last year at Domtar, obviously with retirements, and we have that population that came in in the 80s and then in the 90s in the major rebuilds. We’re starting to see a bit of a turnover in our workforce and we expect it to be another 100 in the next 4 years of retirements, potentially, just based off of demographics.”
“It’s really a pretty attractive time to apply and work at Domtar, because you’re getting in with a whole wave of new folks coming into this mill. We like to hope and strive to be the place of employment in Hancock County, and on top of that, with the turnover due to the retirements, I think it’s a pretty exciting time not only for the great development we’re doing, but for the job re-creation.”
Judge/Executive Johnny W. Roberts, Jr. said, “We are very thankful for Domtar’s continued commitment to Hancock County. They have been a vital member of our community for many years. This announcement also confirms their confidence in our local workforce and will strengthen our industrial base for future generations.”
Mike Baker, Director of Economic Development for the HC Industrial Foundation, stated: “The Hancock County Industrial Foundation is excited to see another investment in our local manufacturing sector. Domtar is a leading corporate citizen of our community, and this investment is another step in their continued growth, success and sustainability.” He went on to say that this upgrade is “another validation of the employees and this plant’s commitment to excellence.”
Domtar Paper Company is celebrating 175 years of business this year, with around 6,400 employees in over 50 countries. The Hawesville mill produces 600,000 tons of fine, specialty paper each year.
If you’d like to apply for a position at Domtar, go to Domtar.com, and the complete application process can be done on their website. There are computers available to use at the HC Career Center, the KY Career Center and the public libraries.
By Jennifer Wimmer