Blandin layoffs highlight divided economy

The UPM-Blandin Paper mill sits on the site of the once “Grand” rapids of the upper Mississippi River in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The town grew amid the prosperity of the mill, but also suffered as its workforce has shrunk over the years. (PHOTO: UPM-Blandin)

Wall Street is surging. Minnesota’s economy continues to add jobs. But in Grand Rapids, a set of layoffs reminds that the United States has two economies heading in different directions.

On Tuesday, UPM-Blandin announced the impending closure of its Line 5 plant amid declining demand for its coated paper products. The move will cause 150 people to permanently lose their jobs.

Blame can be spread all around. People use less paper. That’s been happening for a long time. Competitive paper mills are more automated and less labor intensive. Line 5 was the Blandin mill’s oldest, and in most need of updating. And the company itself — Finnish paper giant UPM — wasn’t willing to invest funds into the old plant. This, despite major windfalls in a tax lawsuit and conservation land deal in recent years.

UPM also announced it would close a paper mill in Dorpen, Germany. Here we find another small town in another industrial nation struggling with the effects of automation and divides between rural and urban fortunes. So we must not assume that these troubles are unique. Nor can we expect that the dynamic causing them will end soon.

UPM officials say the closure of Line 5 will occur no later than the end of March 2018. That gives the workers some time to prepare for their new reality. But in a rural Minnesota economy with fewer jobs, what comes next will be very jarring to families and the community.

Economic indicators are good, but true prosperity is hard to find, certainly true in Grand Rapids today. As a nation, we must contend with the human costs of automation and digitization, or else our economic “growth” will be nothing more than paper billions.

And even those are digital these days.


  1. “As a nation, we must contend with the human costs of automation and digitization” – Not!!

    If I’m one of the 150 Blandin employees losing my job (a human cost), sitting around waiting for “the nation” to hand me another job is foolhardy. It’s not “the nations” role to do so. “The nation” has two primary roles in the economy, setting monetary policy (money supply and interest rates) and fiscal policy (tax and spend).

    Waiting around for “the nation” to pick the next winners or losers to create me a job, the next Solyndra or Excelsior, is simpleminded. Don’t be simpleminded….learn a trade, get educated, create a service or product people want, go find a job! One person at a time.

    • This was so very well said thank you. Perhaps for us he up here in northern Minnesota some of the policies like fiscal disparities are now coming home to roost. Our expenditures and high taxation of the businesses in the Grand Rapids area can arguably be the agent of our demise. Nice amenities theaters biking trails walking Bridges roundabouts storm Gardens all come at a cost and have we weighed and balanced that price or just hoped it would be absorbed. We spent Millions on economic development in this area but in doing so are we collapsing the commercial and Industrial businesses that pay a large portion of the cost. Your piece was well written and you hit it right on the mark we need to re-educate regroup and build anew

  2. David E BEARD says

    Ranger, I think you misread Aaron’s intent in that sentence.

    • I don’t think so David. Aaron has strong socialistic leanings. He believes the answer to most all social and economic issues lies with elitist government intervention…not the individual. He’s crafty with words. That’s one of his God-given gifts..

  3. Ranger, always on guard against that insidious, creeping socialism. Stand by your master of your own universe principles and opt out of Social Security, Medicare and a multitude of other government handouts to moochers like yourself.

    • There you go, changing the subject from how one should get a job….to the wonderful things government is doing by taking our money, then handing only a portion of it back to us as if they’re doing us a favor…and keeping the rest.

      But, being you brought it up, and with Vin Scully retired, somebody has to keep the evils of socialism in front of us. Nice to see him throw out the first pitch at last nights Astros-Dodgers game. As he said not long ago during a Brewers-Dodgers game when he was still working:

      “Perez, 25 years old, originally drafted by the Tigers. Lives in Venezuela. Boy, can you imagine you’re a young kid, you’re playing in the United States, you’re from Venezuela, and every time you look at the news it’s a nightmare. Socialism failing to work, as it always does, this time in Venezuela. You talk about giving everybody something free and all of a sudden there’s no food to eat. And who do you think is the richest person in Venezuela? The daughter of Hugo Chavez. Hello! Anyway, 0-and-2.”

      Hope you didn’t turn the TV off when the Astros were losing 3-1 in the seventh. If you did, you missed a heck of a finish!

      And oh…give me the hundreds of thousands I’ll have paid into SS and Medicare by retirement and I’ll glad opt out.

  4. When you are in your 70’s, 80’s or older, you’d be confident that if you had the money you paid into SS and Medicare and not be on SS/Medicare, you’d be able to live comfortably for the rest of your life and pay your medical bills. Ha, ha. I guess you could just retrain and go back to work or if disabled, you could just move in with your kids and have them support you.

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