Paper mill in Calhoun, Tenn., once known as Bowater, idles its last newsprint machine

Paper mill in Calhoun, Tenn., once known as Bowater, idles its last newsprint machine

March 13th, 2013 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Resolute Forest Products is located next to the Hiwassee River near Charleston Tenn.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

A generation ago, Bowater's paper mill in Calhoun, Tenn., was one of America's biggest producers of newsprint and one of the biggest land owners in Southeast Tennessee.

Next week, Bowater's successor company, now known as Resolute Forest Products, will shut down its last newsprint machine in Calhoun after decades of shedding forest lands and mill jobs in response to the shrinking size and circulation of its newspaper customers.

Resolute officials said the "indefinite idling" of the newsprint machines will cost another 150 mill jobs, cutting the remaining staff at the Calhoun plant below 500 by the end of the month.

Resolute continues to operate two specialty paper machines in Calhoun, making papers for circulars, flyers and other higher-grade paper publications.

"From the time I joined the company 26 years ago, production (in Calhoun) is probably half of what it once was," said Douglas Breckenridge, a sales representative for Resolute Forest Products. "Newspapers are much narrower than they used to be and today's printing presses use far less paper."

After Bowater and Abitibi-Consolidated merged in 2007 to create the third largest pulp and paper company in North America, the company shut down two of its five paper production machines in Calhoun in 2008. Debbie Johnston, director of public affairs for Resolute, said the Calhoun newsprint machine was not as efficient as other company mills in Augusta, Ga., and Grenada, Miss., where the company has invested more than $30 million to upgrade operations.

"The idling (in Calhoun) comes as a result of a decrease in demand for newsprint, coupled with high operating costs for the machine," she said.

The decision follows Resolute's acquisition this week of the 49 percent interest in Calhoun Newsprint Co., owned by The Herald Publishing Company, LLC, its joint-venture partner for the newsprint operations.

The Calhoun mill produced 215,000 metric tons per year and supplied newsprint for dozens of newspapers in the Southeast, including the Chattanooga Times Free Press. A plant in Augusta, Ga., will now supply such newsprint.