Business

Paper mills find ways to hang on in digital world

Serafim Casanova (top) worked with paper used in gaskets, at Hollingsworth & Vose in Walpole. CEO Val Hollingsworth says developing specialties takes time.
Serafim Casanova (top) worked with paper used in gaskets, at Hollingsworth & Vose in Walpole. CEO Val Hollingsworth says developing specialties takes time.Photos by Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

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Last month a five-alarm fire ripped through the shuttered buildings of Merrimac Paper Co. in Lawrence, consuming the once mighty riverfront mill that produced high quality papers for customers such as National Geographic magazine.

The destruction of the 19th-century mill complex seemed to symbolize the fate of one of New England’s traditional industries, one like textiles or shoes that succumbed to the forces of technology and globalization. At one time, hundreds of paper and pulp mills, employing tens of thousands of people, dotted New England rivers and communities. Today, in the face of foreign competition and a digital society demanding less paper, fewer than 50 paper mills operate in the region.

Despite this decline, paper making still plays an important role in rural economies.

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