KINGSPORT — Domtar Corp. Wednesday bucked the trend of a troubled economy, announcing 15 to 20 new jobs for its paper converting center here by mid-2009.
Company officials said a sheeter and skid wrapper will start operations at its Ridgefields Converting Center in July, with the hirings to start in March and April.
“We will hire locally,” said Tom Segelhorst, director of human resources for Domtar’s Kingsport Mill downtown. That operation, managed by Charlie Floyd, provides 99 percent of the raw material for the Kingsport converting operation.
The new hires, to be sought through newspaper advertisements and a state of Tennessee employment program, will join the center’s 37 existing employees.
“We are very pleased to be able to make a positive announcement under the current economic conditions,” Larry Warren, the Fort Mill, S.C.-based director of converting, said during an afternoon news conference at the Kingsport converting center.
Warren said the facility, which produces 480 tons of finished paper a day with 37 employees, is staffed mostly with veteran workers, including many who worked for Domtar predecessors Willamette and Mead.
“They have been through a lot and have proved their mettle,” Warren said.
Joe Boggs, plant manager of the converting facility, said the operation recently went from a shift where employees worked seven days before getting time off to one where they work five days before they get time off.
However, Boggs and Bo Berry, production manager at the operation, said the new shift work schedule shouldn’t cost workers any hours in the long run, and that the seven-day shifts may return as the economy improves.
Warren said the additional equipment will make the center the most advanced of its kind in the country. The folio sheeter will allow production of finished sheets 36 inches by 48 inches, compared to the current production, which is all 8½ inches by 11 inches.
A news release from Domtar said the equipment was a “several million dollar investment.” Warren said the exact figure was less than $5 million but would not be released yet so as not to tip off competitors to exactly what equipment is coming to Kingsport.
However, he did say the equipment is being relocated from closed Domtar facilities.
Warren said the company is able to make the move because the building is sized to accept it without expansion, and it will allow much of the company’s outsourced converting to go back in house.
The facility also is a distribution center for some Domtar products not produced in Kingsport, Segelhorst said.
“Domtar to us is people like Joe, Tom and Charlie that work so close in this community,” Mayor Dennis Phillips said.
Phillips said city leaders in the 1990s made a wise decision allowing a tax break that led to modernization of the downtown mill.
“It seems like it’s all doom and gloom,” Phillips said of news reports on the economy that make Domtar’s decision all the more remarkable.
Although the new paper equipment will be state of the art, Segelhorst said Domtar employees are what make the difference. As of Wednesday afternoon, the converting facility had gone 830 days without a reportable accident, and the mill had gone just more than a year.
“The equipment, that is available worldwide,” Segelhorst said. “It’s the people who make the difference.”
The 312,000-square-foot facility began in 2002 when the converting operation moved out of the downtown mill. It takes rolls of paper that weigh 7,400 pounds each and converts them to finished product six at a time in 55 minutes. The center processes about 150 rolls a day.
Domtar is the largest integrated manufacturer and marketer of uncoated freesheet paper in North America and the second largest in the world based on production capacity. The company, which also makes papergrade, fluff and specialty pulp, has almost 13,000 employees.
For more information visit www.domtar.com.