The paper industry ain’t what it used to be, but a recent survey of paper producers found new investment last year hit the highest point since 2003, at $173 million this year.
That figure — about double the investment from 2013 — is a bright spot for an industry that has needed investment to upgrade machinery and become more efficient to compete against producers worldwide.
State Economist Amanda Rector released the investment figures from a Maine Pulp and Paper Association survey Tuesday, as part of a presentation sizing up the state’s paper industry.
Those figures, she said, show the industry continues to attract new investment and economic activity, beyond just having been and remaining a significant part of manufacturing in the state.
Representatives from Sappi, which has mills in Westbrook and Skowhegan, said the company’s continued to invest in research and development. St. Croix Tissue is installing tissue paper machines expected to start operating next year.
The investment numbers come alongside some other less encouraging figures about the industry.
Total production, for instance, has dropped.
Those figures, directly from the mills, complement an understanding of the industry from publicly available and perhaps better known statistics, like total industry employment.
Jobs in pulp and paper have dropped dramatically in the past 10 years.
Rector pointed out, however, that the jobs that remain have continued to provide relatively high wages, far above the average wage across all industries and for wood product manufacturing overall.
Nationally, she said, Maine’s paper manufacturing wages are the 7th highest.
And the sector remains a big part of Maine manufacturing, where employment and output has dropped overall, while sectors like real estate and financial services have surged.
Within manufacturing, papermaking paid about 10 percent of $2.6 billion in manufacturing wages, in 2014, and made up for about 15 percent of manufacturing sector output in 2013.
That’s compared with just more than 2 percent nationally.
The bottom line of the conference was that — like it or not — Maine’s pulp and paper industry remains a substantial part of the state’s manufacturing base.