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The Final Word by Chuck Swann
The Sappi Paper mill in Westbrook, Maine, remains standing among fallen and closed mills in East Millinocket, Lincoln, Old Town, Bucksport and Madison, Maine.

These closures have come about within the last two years, but Sappi has remained open and operating by turning its back on its past of making publishing papers and embracing a future in the making of release papers.

Release paper, coated with various textures, can be used for pressing paper-backed patterns into synthetic materials, laminates, leather and other products. The range of uses includes serving as substrates for patterned car interiors, laminated flooring, shoes and soccer balls.

The Westbrook mill produces about 40% of the global market for release paper, according to mill managing director Mike Standel. About 92% of the mill's production is exported to key markets in Europe and China. Research into release paper began when the mill was still in the hands of S.D. Warren Co.

The mill was sold to Scott Paper in 1967 and to Sappi in 1994. Sappi has a three-part strategy for the Westbrook mill, the State of Maine's single largest paper company, to avoid closure. Two of those strategic aims are keeping what once was the world's largest pulp and paper mill in Skowhegan efficient for competing in printing and publishing papers while focusing on high-margin products in Westbrook. Sappi's third aim is to produce dissolving pulp at its Minnesota mill.

Sappi has taken steps to secure its wood supply in Maine by hiring foresters to work with private landowners.

For news about more mill reinventions in the pulp and paper industry--stay tuned!

Chuck Swann is the senior editor of Paperitalo Publications. He can be reached by email at chuck.swann@taii.com.

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