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Green Bay, Wis. -
The old Institute of Paper Chemistry might have left Appleton more than 15 years ago, but the Fox Valley can still feel the void.
Organizers of the new Paper Technology Transfer Center
hope to begin filling that void Wednesday with the PTTC's grand opening in downtown Green Bay.
Wisconsin is the nation's top paper-producing state, rolling out more than 6.4 million tons of paper and paperboard annually. The industry employs or supports more than 170,000 jobs statewide, according to Dave Hollenberg, the PTTC's first director and former director of product development for Georgia-Pacific's Dixie line of products.
The PTTC was created last year through a $500,000 grant from the Small Business Administration to the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
. In addition to office maintenance and other overhead costs, the grant covers the salaries of a full-time director and two part-time staff members. The three-year grant took effect in July 2004.
As worldwide companies such as Stora Enso, Procter & Gamble and Georgia-Pacific have taken the forefront in the state, so has the need for world-class research capabilities.
The PTTC's job is to marshal the state's paper science resources so that, on a research level, it can compete with the likes of Georgia Tech's Institute of Paper Science and Technology - the school formed in 1989 when the IPC skipped town. It also is charged with identifying new technologies that could provide new commercial opportunities for paper companies.
"Our biggest paper companies are global companies," said Rep. Mark Green, R-Green Bay, who secured the PTTC's startup grant. "My dream is that when they're having their board meetings, and they think about their capitalization decisions, I want someone to say, `Hey they're doing some exciting stuff in Wisconsin. We need to be near it."
Hollenberg noted that most of the state's papermakers are small, private operations that often lack the R&D budgets of the big boys. By connecting those companies to new technological developments, they can compete on an ever-more-global stage.
"When the [IPC] left Wisconsin, it king of left them without technical support or anyone they could go to," Hollenberg said. "What I intend to do is facilitate developing relationships between paper companies and resources in the state to try to improve the efficiency and profitability of these paper companies."
Green pointed to UW-Green Bay's environmental program, the paper science training at Fox Valley Technical College and UW-Stevens Point's paper science program as prime resources that businesses will be able to collaborate with through the PTTC. He also wants to partner with UW-Madison's Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation
(WARF) and WiSys, which license technology developed in the state's universities to businesses.
"My goal essentially is to bring all of that together, perhaps in a virtual sense," Green said. "By tapping into all of that, I think we can, in fact, have a world-class research facility. My view is, we take what we're good at and marry it to emerging technology, and the sky's the limit."'Wonderful collaboration'
Karyn Biasca can testify to how much Appleton lost when the IPC hopped the midnight train to Georgia in 1989.
Biasca, an associate professor of paper science at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, was the last student to check out of the IPC. Having received her master's and doctoral degrees from the IPC, she saw firsthand just how valuable it was to the region's paper companies and educational institutions. She noted that corporate dues financed the IPC. In return they received first crack at research results. She also recalled many a UW-SP paper science classes making the hour-long trek to the IPC for field trips.
"It was a wonderful collaboration between industry and a graduate program, it really was," said Biasa, who received her master's and Ph.D. from IPC. "We weren't doing research for a company to give it a competitive edge. What we were trying to figure out were some of the fundamental reasons why paper behaves he way it does, ways to modify it to create different properties - stuff that could be useful for any paper mill.
"The institute was a wonderful resource for other educational institutions, particularly UW-SP. "It was really a shame to see it go. It's a little tough to take a field trip to Atlanta [from Stevens Point] to do research." Global competition
Hollenberg said China installed 11 new paper machines last year. If small paper companies are to survive, they must create products with more value than the commodity-grade products that any paper company can make.
"If a company continues to make the same products that they've always made and make them in the same way they've always made them, they are on a slow death spiral," Hollenberg said. "You start running into competition from other companies in the United States putting in machines that are bigger and faster.
"In order for some of these smaller companies to compete, they need to develop higher-value products."