FORT KENT – The Madawaska-Edmundston complex of Fraser Papers Nexfor was hailed Wednesday by the group’s president as the centerpiece of the international pulp, paper and dimensional lumber company.
Bert Martin, a native of Edmundston, New Brunswick, who moved up through the company’s ranks from engineer to president, believes what he says.
More importantly, Martin said, investors also believe the complex, separated by the St. John River, is the company centerpiece.
Martin was one of three Fraser speakers at Wednesday’s University of Maine at Fort Kent Business Networking Breakfast attended by about 150 business people from both sides of the river.
“The difference is enthusiasm, and our people are our strength,” Martin said. “The people of the St. John Valley, on both sides of the river, are driven by enthusiasm, from the guy who sweeps the floor to the people who run the mills.
“The complex will remain the centerpiece of the company because our investors believe this as well,” the president continued. “This enthusiasm and drive is changing other aspects of the company.”
The 75-year-old company, started by a group of Scotsmen in 1925, has been successful, according to Martin, because it keeps three kinds of people – investors, customers and employees – happy.
Locally, the company operates a pulp and paperboard mill in Edmundston, New Brunswick, an eight-machine paper mill in Madawaska, and sawmills in Masardis, Ashland, Plaster Rock and Juniper, New Brunswick. In the province and in Maine, the company owns or operates 2.5 million acres of woodlands.
“We use a lot of wood, but we will be self-sufficient in raw fiber for years to come,” Martin said. “That is because of the way we work our forests.”
He said his company’s forestry practices are outlined in the 1975 Crown Lands Act in New Brunswick. Fraser uses the province practices in the Maine woods as well. The Crown Lands Act incorporated forestry practices used for decades in Scandinavian countries.
Fraser’s forestry nursery, just outside of Edmundston, raises 7.5 million seedlings a year.
“Companies facing fiber shortages in Maine are those who have not been well disciplined enough,” Martin said. “Some companies are suffering, and that’s because of their practices.”
Fraser, Martin said, is 81 percent self-sufficient in wood chips. The company trades hardwood harvested on its lands for softwood from other companies in need of the hardwood.
Fraser also generates much of its own power for the Edmundston-Madawaska complex with a cogeneration plant put on line during the last decade. The facility burns 100 tons of bark and waste wood an hour to generate steam and power. The excess is sold to New Brunswick Power.
Fraser’s success, Martin said, is due to competitive advantages it has developed by finding niche products in lightweight and coated papers and by product development.
All of the company’s eight paper machines in Madawaska are profitable, he said, some more than others. Fraser is the largest producer of light and ultralight opaque and publishing papers in North America. More than 80 percent of the Madawaska production is in specialty papers.
“Our people are experts at producing lightweight papers,” Martin said. “We are surpassed solely by one producer in France.
“Every motel and hotel room has a Gideon Bible in it,” Martin said. “Take one home, I encourage you to, because we make the paper for the Gideon Bible.
“The economy in the St. John Valley is alive and well,” the company president declared. “It is also well positioned for the future.”
Company vice presidents and mill managers in Edmundston and Madawaska, Gilles Volpe and Richard Arnold, agreed with Martin’s assessment.
“Integration makes the Edmundston-Madawaska complex unique” Volpe said. “It provides fiber security, quality, cost stability and pulp reliability.”
The Edmundston complex provides more than 80 percent of the pulp needed to produce paper in Madawaska. The pulp, like steam energy generated by the cogeneration plant, is transported to the Madawaska mill by seven pipelines across the St. John River, the international border with Canada.
“Our complex is unique in the world,” Arnold said. “Because of our unique partnership, we are able to produce the specialty papers we do.”
The Madawaska mill produces 450,000 tons of paper a year.
“As managers, we need to see to our investors, our customers and our employees,” Martin said. “These three elements need to be looked at constantly to keep a proper balance.”