In 1900, the Great Northern Paper Company (GNP) in Millinocket, Maine, began manufacturing newsprint — the largest operation in the world at that time — producing 240 tons/day of newsprint, 120 tons/day of sulfite pulp, and 240 tons/day of ground wood pulp. Great Northern Paper Co. expanded six years later, adding another mill to East Millinocket.
With its vast supply of timber, Maine quickly became the nation’s leading paper producing state. In the mid-1900s, investments in Maine mills allowed them a smooth transition into producing printing and writing papers, which were growing rapidly in demand. By the 1960s, Maine became a leader in coated paper and uncoated ground wood production — but things changed drastically in the late 20th century.
Offshore competition and outsourcing in Europe, South America, and Asia led to more than just the usual competition from Massachusetts, New York, Wisconsin, and Canada. With decreased productivity, reduction of labor force was ultimately necessary. Mills closed, folks left, and small Maine towns began to feel the deathly decline of industry in the United States.
Many Americans living in industry-based communities have experienced the socio-economic impact of this decline, including East Millinocket — a small town of 1800 people that lies on the west branch of the Penobscot River. With 400 Mainers working at the mill, the town was devastated when it was forced to shut down a year and a half ago — that’s until Cate Street Capital, a New Hampshire-based company, bought GNP six months later.
Supplying it’s “Baxter Brite” paper, GNP signed a vital contract with Vintage Books to produce 3,000 tons of paper needed for E.L. James’ sultry romance series: Fifty Shades of Grey.
In a sensational occurrence, the mill is currently operating at maximum output. President and CEO of Great Northern Paper Co., Richard Cyr, says sales are up after a very extensive marketing campaign, adding that the mill currently has a 35- to 40-day backlog of orders and is sold out through the end of the year.
The company just recently added 37 more jobs at the mill and hope’s to expand by turning neighboring town Millinocket’s Great Northern Paper Co. mill, which stopped in 2008, into a wood pellet production facility which would produce 110,000 tons a year for European sale.
A fantastic story about how a measly book — an outdated design, diminished with technology and modern digitization — can help save a mill (also an outdated operation) and put close to 25% of a small town’s population back to work.
The three novels of the Fifty Shades have been a mass success, dominating the New York Times’ bestseller list, and for the past four months. One in five adult print novels sold in the U.S. has been a Fifty Shades title. East Millinocket, known as “The Town that Paper Made” has high hopes in a dismal economy, all thanks to a business deal, a little bit of luck, and an erotic book series. Go figure.