KAUKAUNA, Wis. (From news reports) -- Wisconsin's paper industry is alive and well, according to a new state report.
A recent study shows the Badger State's paper industry leads the nation in many economic measures.
"We want to also defeat false narratives that papermaking is -- that paper is dead; that's not true," said Scott Suder, president of the Wisconsin Paper Council.
Papermakers say the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation's industry report proves what they've known all along.
"It confirms our suspicions," said WEDC regional and economic development director Jason Scott. "It confirms what we initially thought, and I think it reassures us that the path that we have chosen to support the paper industry that they're continuing to have an impact."
Paper is Wisconsin's fifth largest industry. It accounted for more than $18 billion in economic output, and employed about 30,000 workers last year. About half of those are in Winnebago, Outagamie, and Brown counties.
"They're good paying, they're highly technological, and they're going to stay, and they're growing!" said Suder.
And for every papermaking job, "there can be a three- to six-time multiplier effect of what the impact is in the community," said Addie Teeters, who works in communications and public affairs at Ahlstrom Munksjö.
Industry leaders say paper is only getting bigger as more people move away from single-use plastics like drinking straws.
"The more those sustainability trends continue to impact us, the paper industry can really see some great benefits from that, and we have solutions for those problems," said Teeters.
But the good news doesn't mean there's not room for improvement.
"The workforce issues will continue to affect the paper industry," Scott said.
The average paper worker is 48 years old, and employers say it's not easy recruiting young workers.
"We do need more individuals with highly skilled backgrounds to come into the papermaking industry, from engineers to producers to, you know, marketing folks," said Suder.
But paper leaders say Wisconsin is in great shape to handle a changing industry.
"Papermaking is here to stay" Suder said. "It's got a great heritage, but it's also got a great future."
State leaders began their visits at ND Paper's Biron Division, and ended at Green Bay Packaging, where construction is underway on a new $500 million mill.