By Dave Ongie, Managing Editor
A ribbon-cutting ceremony usually signals the opening of a new facility. However, the ceremony held at Domtar’s Kingsport Mill last month simply opened the latest chapter at a facility that has operated in Kingsport for over a century.
State and local dignitaries joined Domtar executives and employees to celebrate the two-year conversion of the Kingsport Mill from an uncoated freesheet paper machine into the second-largest 100-percent recycled containerboard machine in North America. Known as Project Smoky, the conversion was completed in time for the mill to resume operation in January of this year.
In the days leading up to the ceremony, Domtar Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Henry told the Business Journal early feedback to the new containerboard machine has exceeded expectations.
“When we bring in industry experts and customers, every single person believes they see the leading state-of-the-art recycled containerboard operation in North America,” Henry said. “That’s very encouraging.”
Domtar has been around for 175 years and is certainly no stranger to repurposing and renovating facilities. In fact, the Kingsport Mill went through a renovation back in 2003, making it one of the more modern facilities in the company when the decision was made in 2020 to repurpose it to produce recycled containerboard. Upon completion, the Kingsport Mill became Domtar’s first 100 percent recycled containerboard facility.
Charlie Floyd, Vice President of Strategic Capital Projects for Domtar’s packaging business, was the Mill Manager in Kingsport during the last renovation in 2003. He made note of the mill’s unique positioning in Kingsport’s downtown – almost unheard of for a paper mill – and credited the partnership between Kingsport and Domtar for helping the latest project go so smoothly.
“The city has very much embraced us and helped us along the way, trying to get this project moving, approved and doing what they could to help us,” Floyd said. “That was a big piece of it. We took one of our better assets and converted it here. It is going to be a race horse in the industry, and it’s going to put us where we want to be.”