Friday Rant: The Paperless Revolution Has Arrived – But There’s One Paper We’ll Always Buy

Having spent most of my early working life in the printing industry, I can recall Friday martini luncheons with paper salesmen (and they were all male back then) who would nervously mock the then futuristic predictions that the modern office of the 21st century would, in fact, be paperless. Most of those guys ended up taking early retirement, but many thousands more paper mill workers whose grandfathers, fathers and mothers worked the mills for over 100 years have lost their jobs and even their communities to the paper industry's demise.

Paper Mills, if you've never visited one, are wondrous industrial marvels with towering machines larger than the biggest steam locomotives ever made. And while many have been sold for scrap iron, it was with elation that I read in this week's WSJ that the old Mill in Gorham, New Hampshire was coming back on line to make a paper product we are unlikely to ever give up.

This mountain town pop. 2,848 "is running again, under new owners, with 176 employees and plans to hire 48 more. The rebirth, and optimism at other paper mills nationwide, is due to one of the few bright spots in the industry: steadlily rising demand for toilet tissue paper that goes with population growth." As the new 70 –year-old mill manager says "...what are you going to replace it with."

Which brings me to the "rant" portion of today's post. My wife, Susan, was steadily employed in the paper industry for over 35 years and after two years of being unemployed, started a new position this week -- for a thriving paper wholesaler. She never imagined finding a position in paper again, despite her stellar and perfect industry reputation. But here's the rub: After being hired, the president of the company told her that her past employer stated that it was "their policy to not give references for past employees on the advice of their legal counsel." Fortunately, my wife's industry stature was beyond reproach.

Ironically, Susan's previous employer loved her and even remained in touch following lay off. The moral of this tale is that overly litigious conscious legal advice can be wrong. And not everyone is fortunate enough to find new employment in their historic line of work. So if you're ever called for a reference on a great past employee, please leave the building, call the seeker back on your mobile, and give the reference off the record.

Viva la toilet tissue.

- William Busch

Voices (5)

  1. The Purchasing Certification Guy:

    The 70-year-old mill manager has apparently never used a toilet in Japan.

  2. bitter and twisted:

    Official references might as well be printed on toilet paper, at least then theyd have some use.

    eg: that Good reference is only valid if

    1) the person really was good
    and
    2) the past employer was competent enough to know they were
    good
    and
    3) the employer is nice enough to provide the good reference
    and
    4) not so ‘nice’ as to give most everyone a good reference

    What are the odds?

  3. pu:

    Darn it, Bill, now Gorham is going to smell bad again. Paper plants smell really bad. At least all the ones I’ve known did.

  4. Philip:

    I guessed the right kind once I read the title. Love that you covered three topics in less than 600 words:

    1) TP
    2) Industry Evolution
    3) References

    Do want to highlight the GREAT in your last sentence though. Not a lot to be gained by risking going off the record for someone you wouldn’t recommend.

  5. Maverick:

    Great article. I would pay the premium for some "Mt. Washington tissue paper" (7 miles south from Gorham to the MW auto road) to help keep the folks up there employed beyond tourism. If you’re going to localize supply with our inputs (local produce), might as well localize for the… well… anyway, it’s a great way to support a local industry.

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