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People seal the deal for Wisconsin businessman

A Southern location, reduced freight costs and equipment acquisition were all important, but the main reason why Green-Bay, Wisc.-based Greg Santaga bought the former Kimberly-Clark paper mill in Hattiesburg was the people who work there.

The deal, finalized this past New Year’s day, took eight months of negotiations to bring about. Terms of the deal were not made public.

Santaga, who owns the Green Bay Converting Co., with locations in Green Bay and Ashwaubenon, Wis., renamed the Hattiesburg facility the Hattiesburg Paper Corp. He retained all of the plant’s 185 employees.

Larry Clark, who worked there since 1986 and was the manager, has taken a job with Kimberly-Clark. A new manager has not yet been named.

“Incredible” is the way that Steve Swiggum, vice-president of both the Hattiesburg Paper Corp. and the Green Bay Converting Co. described the Hattiesburg employees. “They’re great people. Most of them have been working there for a long time.”

Swiggum lives in Green Bay and has no plans to move to Mississippi, but said that he’s spending the majority of his time in Hattiesburg.

“Hattiesburg is a wonderful community. People in the plant mimic the people in the community. They’re outgoing, friendly, hard-working. Though I’m often away from home, I know that I’m working in this location and that’s fantastic.”

Swiggum indicated that he and Santaga want the people in the Hattiesburg plant to run the operation there. “It’s an incredible group,” Santaga said of the Hattiesburg employees. “An outstanding workforce and management group. They’re well-known in the Kimberly-Clark corporation as an outstanding workforce.”

“Freight is an issue that everyone has to deal with,” according to Santaga.

Freight is very expensive, agreed Swiggum, particularly because of the cost of fuel. He added that any savings made on freight can be given back to customers in the form of less expensive paper products.

A Mississippi-based facility will not only allow him to reduce shipping costs to his Southern customers, Santaga said, but provide current customers with improved service. Santaga also hopes to increase production by finding new contract manufacturing from southern paper mills.

“There’s a strategic plan and Steve is now out there building the new and increased customer base,” Swiggum said.

The Hattiesburg Kimberly-Clark plant had a number of napkin-manufacturing machines that Green Bay Converting did not have and this made its purchase attractive, according to Swiggum. Acquiring these machines strategically rounded out all of the product lines.

Both Green Bay Converting and Hattiesburg Paper manufacture towels, tissue, napkins and wipes for similar customers. One of these is Kimberly-Clark, which produces brand names such as Huggies, Kleenex and Depends. Kimberly-Clark, Georgia-Pacific and Procter & Gamble dominate the paper products industry.

Neither the Green Bay nor the Hattiesburg facility make paper. Huge rolls of paper are delivered and then converted into the paper products they manufacture.

Santaga himself once worked for Kimberly-Clark (and also Scott Paper) as a paper products salesman. He started Green Bay Converting Co. in 1999. Annual sales were $5 million and there were 185 employees. Annual sales have grown to $30 million and Santaga now employs some 400 people.

Santaga, who is married and has three children, is well-known in the Green Bay community. A member of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Sports Hall of Fame, he led his 1983 soccer team to its first NCAA postseason tournament.

In 2002, Green Bay Converting was awarded the Governor’s Workforce Innovation Award, which recognizes individuals and organizations that create innovative approaches and-outside-the-box solutions to develop and sustain Wisconsin’s workforce.

“In hiring many refugees over the past several years, Green Bay Converting has helped meet their labor force needs while giving people facing significant challenges a chance,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum said in presenting Santaga with the award.

The company utilized refugee employees who had better language skills and work knowledge to train others with limited English, and then promoted a number into higher positions.

In 2003, Green Bay Converting was awarded the Annual Excellence in Business Award by the Chamber of Commerce. The award cited the company’s business, innovation enhancement and community involvement and noted that Santaga’s plant had increased sales by 65% between July 31, 2002, and July 31, 2003.

The award further saluted Green Bay Converting for its commitment to quality, cost reduction and maximum efficiency.

“I really let our customers dictate our growth,” Santaga said.

He added that he intends to enlarge the Green Bay facility and that Hattiesburg would not impair that effort. Santaga also said that he had no plans to cut the staff at his Wisconsin locations or transfer any Green Bay employees to Hattiesburg.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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