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Technology changes keep old plant humming

February 17, 1999

Republic Paperboard CoBy SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




The mill facility that is now the Republic Paperboard Co. in Halltown, W.Va. has undergone a lot of changes in the two centuries it has operated in one form or another.

For starters, the plant has benefited from changes such as the invention of the light bulb, said James M. Lambert, 50, mill manager.

The raw material used to make its products also have changed, from straw and rags to the 100 percent recycled waste paper used today, he said.

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The oldest continuous manufacturing facility in West Virginia, the property at Old Route 340 and Halltown Road started out as a grist mill in 1760. It was deeded to William Hall in 1763.

In 1869 the mill began producing paperboard for packaging at the rate of 6 tons a day, Lambert said.

That was 10 years before Thomas Edison patented the light bulb. There was not much of a night crew back then, Lambert joked. Today, the mill operates around the clock, seven days a week, producing 200 tons daily, Lambert said.

The Hutchinson, Kansas-based Republic Group Inc. purchased what was then the Halltown Paperboard Co. in 1995. The move gave the mill an opportunity to develop a more aggressive capital plan, said Lambert.

In the next three to five years, for example, the company will get a machine that can make paperboard that is 100 inches wide, he said. Currently the maximum width of boards turned out at the plant is 70 inches.

Current sales are almost $23 million annually.

The company has a worldwide customer base, with paperboard products shipped to Canada, the Philippines, the Middle East and the Far East, he said.

The days when the company was only competing against mills in Maryland and West Virginia are long gone, he said.

The mill in Halltown employs about 190 people. Some of the family names have been on the payroll for generations, Lambert said.

The mill's history is one of the company's strengths, he said. The work force has more experience, knowledge and drive than those at most companies, he said.

The paperboard the mill makes is used for everything from cigar boxes to game boards to folding cartons, Lambert said. Mill machines can cut the boards into different sizes and shapes, as evidenced by a heart-shaped piece of paperboard held up by Lambert.

Most of the paperboard is used as can separator boards, to separate cans of food and drink, he said.

One of the biggest changes affecting paper mills has been increased government regulation, he said. The company was ahead of its time in dealing with potential environmental problems, he said.

The mill does not use any wood pulp or cut down any trees. By using 100 percent recycled paper, the company saves about 50,000 tons of paper a year from going into landfills, he said.

The mill is one of very few such operations with no effluent discharge, he said. By operating its own wastewater treatment plant, the mill can reuse and recycle its water, he said.

Government officials, though, seem to ignore the company's environmental achievements when imposing regulations, he said.

"They still overlook that we are definitely a help to the environment," he said.

Republic Paperboard can be reached at 304-725-2076.

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