The new owner of one of Tacoma's more prominent industries, the former Simpson paper mill, says it plans to spend $60 million or more in the next three years to improve the mill's energy efficiency, reliability and aesthetics.
RockTenn Co's. James B. Porter, president of the company's Paper Solutions division, said the company wants to make the mill, which operated for some three decades under Simpson's ownership, better and more reliable.
Simpson took good care of the plant, he said, greatly improving its energy and water usage and eliminating the tell-tale odor that used to be the plant's olfactory trademark. But Atlanta-based RockTenn, a $10 billion company with 26,000 employees worldwide, has the financial and technical resources to improve the mill further.
RockTenn signed final paperwork to acquire the mill early Friday morning.
The company has already changed signs, stationery and other identifying symbols to reflect the plant's new ownership.
RockTenn is hiring the Simpson workforce and continuing to pay the same wages and comparable benefits that family-owned Simpson provided its workers. Local mill management will continue under RockTenn.
Porter said one of the first projects will be to raze older structures around the mill complex that are no longer useful and to give the mill an aesthetic makeover. The new company is still studying what improvements to make to the mill's processing machinery to improve its efficiency and its safety.
Simpson will continue to supply the basic raw materials, wood chips, generated from its Washington forest lands.
Porter, who began his career in the wood products industry in Randall (his first child was born in Tacoma General Hospital and the second at home in Randall), said RockTenn operates 24 paper mills, many of them using the same processes as the Tacoma mill.
That broad experience will allow RockTenn to apply the lessons it has learned to operating and improving the Tacoma mill.
The Tacoma mill is the first RockTenn paper mill on the West Coast. Having a West Coast mill will allow the company to supply its box-making plants in Oregon and California with kraft paper more economically and reliably than shipping those products from the East, he said.
Customers that Simpson had served from Tacoma in the East will now be served by RockTenn mills closer to them.