Following purchase of paper mill, IP looks to take visible role in community

August 15, 2018 10:38:54 AM

Mary Pollitz - [email protected]


International Paper is one of the leading producers of pulp and paper products in the country, but Columbus Mill Manager David Phillips said the company hopes to take the lead on the community involvement front as well.  


Phillips told Columbus Rotarians Tuesday at Lion Hills Center that giving back to the community is imperative for the mill's success. In the two years since IP acquired the Columbus mill from Weyerhaeuser, the company has invested $135,000 within the community through its initiative IP Way Forward. 


IP Way Forward focuses on five different areas: investing in people, sustaining forests, improving the planet, innovative products and inspiring performance.  


"The IP way is doing the right things, in the right way, for the right reasons, all of the time," Phillips said. 


Since December 2016, IP funds have gone toward "signature causes," including education, hunger, health and wellness and critical community need.  


Kellum Kim, mill communications manager, said IP's goal is to become actively present in the community. Kim said Weyerhaeuser was also heavily involved in the community, and IP has worked toward being a similar and steady presence in Lowndes County.  


"People that know Weyerhaeuser, know that they did a lot of great things in the community, they just did more behind the scenes," Kim said. "What we are really trying to change is getting more hands-on, (and) get more of our team members involved."  


By doing so, Kim said IP employees have participated in Salvation Army Christmas events, judged science fairs and have welcomed mill tours for numerous local schools and clubs. In addition to IP's $135,000 Way Forward investment -- which comes from IP corporate -- the local mill has provided another $50,000 toward those community projects. 


The company is involved with organizations like Make-A-Wish Mississippi, Lowndes County Imagination Library, Palmer Home, Market Street Festival and United Way of Lowndes County. International Paper even celebrated Earth Day by delivering butterfly kits to local elementary schools for children to study the metamorphosis process and life of a butterfly. 


"Part of the IP Way Forward is to provide value for stakeholders," Phillips said. "One of our stakeholders is the community and so we want to make sure we are providing value for the community that our employees live in." 


Kim added: "It's all about investing in our communities and being a good steward of our communities and what we can do to make our community a better place for everyone in Lowndes County."  




Mill history  


The Columbus Mill produces 485,000 tons of fluff, paper-grade and specialty pulp products each year. Built in 1980 by the Weyerhaeuser Company, it started producing light-weight paper in 1982. By 1990, the mill started producing fluff pulp, which is now its main product.  


In December 2016, Memphis-based company International Paper acquired the Columbus mill during a $2.2 billion investment of the Weyerhaeuser's pulp businesses.  


Currently, the mill employs approximately 325 full-time employees, and has hired 30 more employees in 2018. The mill's average hourly wage is $28 per hour and the mill also contracts up to 100 employees a day for normal operations.  


Phillips said the mill generates all of its own electrical supply by using steam from tree-bark burning. It has also reduced its water usage 22 percent since 2007. Each day, the mill uses 15 million gallons of water. It uses the 65-acre marsh on-site for a natural treatment for wastewater, and once river conditions allow, the water is released back into the Tombigbee River. The mill's largest production is fluff pulp, which can be found in absorbent materials such as diapers, wipes, feminine products and dog pads. Phillips said every Pampers and Luvs diaper purchased has material that was manufactured in Columbus.  


"So it's kind of a cool thing for me, working for a company that's making something that people use in their lives everyday," Phillips said.