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Columbia Pulp announces that it will idle operations

 

February 17, 2022

DAYTON—Columbia Pulp, LLC, announced in a press release on February 12 that it would idle operations, effective February 18. The decision will affect approximately 80 employees over the next several weeks. The reduction in workforce will affect employees at the company’s headquarters in Dayton and the production plant at Lyons Ferry

“We made this very difficult decision while continuing to evaluate our strategic options,” said Terry Ryan, Columbia Pulp’s Interim CEO. “We are acutely aware that this has wide-reaching impacts on many people – our valued employees and their families, farm suppliers, and the communities in which we operate. The Columbia Pulp team is talented and dedicated, and we are committed to assisting them through this transition.”

Columbia Pulp was founded more than a decade ago with a vision to use wheat straw to create an alternative fiber pulp, for paper and packaging applications. After opening production facilities in 2018, Columbia Pulp became North America’s first tree-free pulp mill.

In explaining Columbia Pulp’s decision to suspend operations, Ryan said: “Being a first of its kind application with this type of technology has not been without challenges. And while this is normal for a company at the forefront in developing a product like this, to continue on we must make these hard choices while we evaluate our options going forward.”

In an email to The Times, Ryan said that the difficult decision to idle operations is, in no way, reflective of the quality of work, talent, and dedication of the entire Columbia Pulp staff.

Columbia Pulp’s approach for this action will be rolled out in phases over approximately seven weeks, at which point there will be 14 employees who will handle daily business operations. Currently, Columbia Pulp has over 80 employees.

The company shut down operations in April 2020, stating the temporary closure was due to COVID-19 restrictions. During that closure, the company worked to address “bottleneck” issues at their plant and investigate new product lines. They came back online in June 2021, increasing workforce over subsequent months.

The company is offering employees separation benefits to aid with the transition and will offer two-months continued health insurance coverage. Ryan said that Columbia Pulp is working with other regional employers to find positions for the workers let go by this decision.

The Times reached out to Jennie Dickinson, Executive Director of the Port of Columbia who has been a big supporter of this innovative company.

“There is great demand for sustainable products that can be produced with this pulp. I hope that the investors and owners can sort out their processing difficulties and get the plant operating at its intended capacity,” said Jennie Dickinson, Executive Director of the Port of Columbia. “Anytime there is a reduction in force like this, it hurts the community, especially jobs that pay a living wage or more, with benefits. However, with an unemployment of barely 3% we are currently below full employment, so there will likely be some job opportunities in the community.

“We know that the work of all of our employees helped pave the way for an alternative fiber option in our target markets and will have a lasting impact,” added Mr. Ryan. “We believe in this vision and what it means for the future of sustainability in the pulp and paper industry.”

 

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