ND Paper in Rumford. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

RUMFORD — ND Paper announced Tuesday that it will invest a “substantial” amount of money to improve its Maine and Wisconsin mills next year.

At the Rumford mill, the pulp dryer and all three paper machines will undergo significant upgrades to improve production, lower costs and be more competitive.

“To see this level of investment is exciting,” said Brian Boland, vice president of government affairs and corporate initiatives at ND Paper’s mills. ND is “not publicly talking about a number on this next round. We think it’s in our best interest to keep it private at this time. But, in terms of overall investment, it is substantial.”

In October 2018, ND Paper announced a combined $300 million upgrade for the Rumford and Biron,  Wisconsin, mills. That included converting the paper machine in Biron from white grades to brown grades and adding a pulp line. In Rumford, it was to add upgrade the R15 machine to increase its capacity, as well as a recycled pulp line.

The result of the 2020 investment means Rumford’s printing and writing papers capacity will be the same post-conversion with two machines as it is now with three.

“At the end of the day,” Boland said, “we’re still able to make the same tonnage of white bleached premium writing papers on two machines as we were before on three. And we have a new product stream in packaging grades, and we’re able to dry more pulp because that’s pulp that otherwise would have gone to R12 (machine) that we can now push across our higher capacity pulp dryer.

“When you think about the cost impact of that, the more you produce, the more you can spread your fixed costs across tons,” he said. “Your per unit cost becomes lower and our mill becomes a lot more competitive.”

The investment, however, does not necessarily mean adding to the current 660 mill jobs in Rumford.

“I don’t foresee it’s not going to have a whole lot of job impact. The one area that could add a couple is the recycled pulp line, but that’s not official,” Boland said.

On the ND Paper website, Group Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ken Liu said, “We have four mills, three of which were built more than 100 years ago. By focusing on high-return strategic investments, we are building world-class … mills that deliver innovative, high quality products for our customers.”

Janet Koski, director of human resources and communications for the Rumford mill, said, “We are energized by ND Paper’s commitment to the Rumford mill and look forward to a bright future.”

She issued a statement from mill manager Randy Chicoine that said, “These investments will allow the Rumford mill to respond to changing market demands and operate the mill sustainably for decades to come.”

Word of the investment spread quickly through Rumford on Tuesday.

Interim Town Manager Stacy Carter said, “The Rumford mill has long been an economic engine for this region and we are very appreciative and supportive of ND Paper’s decision to invest and improve the facility to remain viable for long-term future sustainability.”

ND Paper is a a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nine Dragons Paper (Holdings) Limited, the largest containerboard producer in Asia. Headquartered in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois, its 1,100 employees produce more than 1.1 million metric tons of paper annually.

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