Expera dedicates new coated products manufacturing line in RhinelanderSubmitted: 11/16/2017
Story By Lane Kimble

Expera dedicates new coated products manufacturing line in Rhinelander
RHINELANDER - Applause echoed from the rafters of a taller, much fuller building on Kemp Street in Rhinelander Thursday morning.  Expera Specialty Solutions dedicated its new, huge paper products coater, which was installed over the last year.

"It's just a beautiful project," Expera President and CEO Russ Wanke said.  "[There are] quite a few generations that have come through the [Rhinelander] plant and an investment like this will have many more generations [to follow.]"

The machine makes a paper layer that protects materials for airplane wing assembly in planes like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Expera has two similar coaters in its mill across town, but Wanke says without adding this third line, they risked losing clients. Expera's plant is one of just a few in the world that can make the paper products.

"Tremendous support and that allowed us to keep this aggressive project on timeline," Wanke said.

That support came in the form of a $15 million loan from Oneida County, which was approved 17 to 1 in September 2016. It's an investment County Board Chairman Dave Hintz saw as having a lot of positives, including the hiring of 20 new workers.  About 500 people work for Expera in Rhinelander.  The company estimates it has a direct economic impact of $200 million.

"Bringing jobs, improving the economy, and making use of a building that was literally a dinosaur," Hintz said.

Transforming the nearly 100-year-old former Printpack building -- which sat empty for several years after that company built a new facility on Highway 17 in 2014 -- required raising the roof, ordering a machine in South Korea, and reassembling it in Rhinelander.

Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch told the crowd on Thursday that she loves Expera. Kleefisch says Expera's willingness to adapt to a changing paper industry puts the company now on the "cutting edge."

"Those who have changed with people's needs are the ones who have succeeded in not just staying alive, but actually thriving," Kleefisch said. "That's what we see Expera doing today."

Expera plans to pay back its loan over the next six years, but it might not be done expanding. Wanke says the building has space to add another coating line in the Kemp Street building, which could happen in two years.

"Wisconsin's a manufacturing state, so they should be very proud that that manufacturing legacy continues, not only in the state of Wisconsin, but particularly here in Rhinelander," Wanke said.

The Board of Commissioners of Public Lands provided the money for Oneida County's loan to Expera. The interest Expera pays on the loan will go from the BCPL into school libraries around the state.

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