Pulp Magic

JULY 3, 2014

Everything Old Is New Again

Everything Old Is New Again

The story of pulp and paper is largely the story of change and continuity . . . old ways and new processes . . . ancient tradition and radical innovation.

That dichotomy was on full display earlier this month when I visited Steve Voorhees and Christopher Broome for a guided tour of the RockTenn facility in West Point, Virginia at the head of the York River. Papermaking has been taking place on this spot for 100 years ever since the Chesapeake Pulp & Paper Company started operations in 1914 with 140 people making up to 20 tons of paper a day.

The mill has gone through several owners over the years from the venerable Olssons, father and son, who grew it into a Fortune 500 company to Smurfit-Stone and finally to RockTenn in 2011.  Over that time the mill has been a source of jobs and livelihoods for three generations of workers in West Point.

At the heart of the mill is a fourdriner — the first in the South — built for about $1 million in 1930 and still at work nearly 70 years later.  Like the company itself, the fourdriner is faster and more efficient than it was when it was new.

Although the manufacturing process is essentially the same now as it was in 1914, the mill is state of the art with increased capacity and a lighter environmental foot print.  A natural gas pipeline installed to power the plant also helps to keep the town of West Point warm and well lit.

And importantly, the mill is producing new and innovative packaging solutions to anticipate or meet changing customer needs. That means today’s brands have greater opportunities to tell, or better yet deliver, their stories to consumers all around the country.

In this centenary year of the RockTenn mill at West Point it’s easy to see exactly how new this “old” industry is.