The paper mill has been a part of Ashdown living since 1968. It provides jobs to residents within a 100-mile radius of the community and is a valued contributor to its economic growth. But as changing technology threatens the future of the paper industry, will Ashdown lose one of its biggest assets?

Domtar’s Ashdown mill is one of the largest uncoated free-sheet mills in North America and creates paper products used every day in everything from office copy machines to the books we read. But as e-readers, tablet computers and other devices like iPads become more popular, the world’s consumption of paper has slowed down.

In fact, demand for uncoated freesheet, the paper that Domtar Ashdown makes, declined by an astounding 35 percent in the past 10 years, according to mill manager Bob Grygotis, a reduction that took production from 15 million tons of paper to less than 10 million. However, Domtar's market share has increased over the years to 3.4 million tons or approximately 32 percent of the market.

In July 2010, the 61 paper machine was shut down, impacting approximately 50 workers.  All grades of paper reduction transitioned to the other three machines within the plant as the company worked to find new buyers for their product.

Book paper

“We discovered there was a need for bag paper,” Grygotis says. Now they’re creating the paper used at fast food restaurants and finding new businesses to work with.

The company’s success is based on its three values: caring, agility, and innovation. “By having these values, we’re more nimble on our feet and have been adaptable to new products, finding new ways to grow our markets and find new ways to survive,” Grygotis says.

As the company makes its economic comeback, it has also launched an advertisement campaign to remind consumers why paper is so important. With its tongue-in-cheek approach, the “Paper Because” shorts are funny, hard-hitting satires that prove why paper is still relevant. The “Black Market” video can be seen below.

While Domtar’s focus is largely sustainability, the company continues to take great pride in its place within the community of Ashdown. One of the ways they’re doing this is by using safe products and renewable materials.

The mill waste minimization team at Domtar works to reconstitute the chemicals it uses and increase the number of products it recycles. For example, now instead of dumping burnt ash into landfills, the company works with Arkansas and uses the ash to improve the quality of the soil. To date, they’ve applied over 20 tons of material to put nutrients back in the earth and create more fertile ground.

Pulp Machine

Domtar’s employees also have a long history of working with Ashdown, says Tammy Waters, the communications and government relations manager. “We partner with the community throughout the year on numerous events, including their bi-annual clean-up day. Also, in 2003, we developed a Community Advisory Team.” The team, made up of city and county officials, school superintendent, mill management and other community leaders, meets regularly to stay abreast of what happens inside and outside of the mill.

In one recent example, the team was challenged with how to come up with the money to replace the sidewalks in downtown Ashdown, Grygotis says. “They had to come up with $30,000 of funding before they could get a government grant. One of our more outspoken leaders from Canada suggested we have a community auction, and that generated almost $20,000!” Mill employees participated whether they lived in Little River County or not.

So even though new technology impacts the world and an increasing number of readers choose to consume books on tiny screens rather than in hardback or paperback editions, Ashdown and its paper mill continue to thrive. Domtar nimbly reacts to changing times, never losing sight of its duty to fortify the very fiber of the community and build a better tomorrow today.

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