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Toilet paper in the COVID-19 pandemic has become a rare commodity as panic buying leaves shelves bare in grocery store aisles across the region and U.S. and a tissue factory in Calhoun, Tennessee, is working hard to keep up.

The mill in Calhoun produces pulp, paper and tissue for the retail market, with the tissue product currently thrust to the forefront, according to Resolute Forest Product's global and corporate spokesman Seth Kursman. Kursman is vice president of corporate communications for the Resolute.

Kursman said he couldn't discuss Resolute's sales or production data but he confirmed that tissue plants are operating nonstop.

"We are running, we don't expect to stop, and we're working with our customers to make sure we supply them as best we can," Kursman said.

Resolute has three tissue plants, including the one in Calhoun. The other two are in Hialeah, Florida, near Miami and Sanford, Florida, near Orlando. The Calhoun plant's tissue operation produces bath tissue and paper towels solely for retail, while the other two also produce for "away from home" markets like hotels, Kursman said.

The company recognizes its role in the current coronavirus outbreak, Kursman said.

"Just as health care professionals provide a critical and admirable service to those in need, we too in the forest products industry play an important role in this rapidly evolving crisis," he said. "We are loyal to our jobs, work hard, and in many cases put in extra hours in light of the current circumstances."

And production involves more than tissue, including products used to make medical supplies and paper.

"For Resolute manufactured products specifically, the tissue we produce helps fill those empty shelves; our pulp is an essential ingredient in tissue, air filters, paper gowns and other medical and personal care supplies; and our paper keeps people the world over informed of developments and advisories," Kursman said. "And when this crisis is in the past and economies again flourish, our wood products will feed the demand for building and essential infrastructure."

In June 2015, Resolute announced a $270 expansion as it stepped into the tissue market for the first time in the mill's 61-year history. Then-CEO Richard Garneau said that with the expansion, the plant would be able to produce 66,000 short tons of tissue and towels a year.

In May 2019, Resolute's Calhoun plant had 560 employees and current CEO Yves Laflamme at the time called tissue and towels "the growth side of the business" as it opened a 300,000-square foot distribution center for tissue at the Calhoun site.

Resolute Forest Products, which had $2.9 billion in total sales in 2019, has a total of four tissue machines at three tissue mills, including its plant in Calhoun, and collectively the plans have a capacity to produce a combined 128,000 short tons of material, according to the company website. The company has 40 facilities in total employing about 7,500 in the U.S. and Canada operating in five business segments, market pulp, wood products, tissue, newsprint and specialty papers.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

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