The documents are stacking up in a conference room at the Inland Empire Paper Co.
Not that it should come as any surprise that the region’s most well-known paper manufacturer has pile after pile of manuscripts taking up space in at least one corner of the administrative wing – it’s just that these papers carry a little more meaning than your average roll of newsprint.
This summer IEP will observe the 100-year mark of business incorporation. Recently the company received a personal letter from Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed stating that the official centennial date will be recognized as Aug. 20, 1910.
|Since incorporating in August 1910, the Inland Empire Paper Co. has undergone a variety of changes, from advances in technology to the renovation of the production plant and administrative offices. Last year, an extensive construction project transformed the front lobby of the building on Argonne Road in Millwood.
Photo by: Craig Howard
For its part, IEP will wait until October 2011 – the 100-year anniversary of the first paper product to be manufactured at the plant – before hosting a formal celebration that will include tours and a historical display.
For Shirene Young, the company’s purchasing manager for the past 20 years, preparations for the event have already begun. The collection of nostalgic items going back to 1910 includes a wide variety of mementos, from old newspaper clippings to vintage photographs and collector’s items like a small stack of souvenir construction paper that was once distributed to those who toured the building.
Not long ago, a local resident donated several pictures taken in the 1920s and 1930s of the annual company picnic. Attendees at the yearly summer event included the official Inland Empire Paper Co. Band, adorned in uniforms as festive as any college marching assembly of the day.
In addition to organizing a temporary museum for next year’s observance, Young said there has been talk of putting up a display at Millwood City Hall.
“We have a lot of artifacts,” she said. “We’re just trying to organize it prepare for the centennial.”
A century of business may have seemed like a distant dream to the settlers from Wisconsin who settled along the banks of the Spokane River and later built the original paper mill. A delay in the arrival of the production equipment caused the founders to rely upon used machines to produce the first paper from the plant.
World War II brought a decline in the amount of raw materials that could be utilized at IEP to manufacture paper products – so the concept of recycling caught hold. Today, IEP takes waste material in the form of wood chips – along with tons of recycled paper – to create mostly newsprint. IEP paper is used by a variety of publications including the Seattle Times, San Jose Mercury News, Spokesman-Review and Spokane Valley News Herald.
In recent years, IEP has felt the brunt of the downturn in publishing as newspapers like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Rocky Mountain News which once bought inventory have gone out of business. Despite the decline, the company – now owned by the Cowles Publishing Co. – still employs nearly 140 people and remains as a pillar of industry throughout the region.
The city of Millwood, which traces its name from the town’s most visible employer, collects close to $1 million in property taxes each year from the paper mill. Mayor Dan Mork talks about the ripple effect of the business, saying how it has an impact on the local economy affecting everything from grocery purchases to car sales.
“They’re a great resource for the city and our residents,” Mork said.
Mork added that the mill continues to make a consistent investment in the community, hosting civic events like the annual Christmas tree lighting and playing an integral part in the formation of the Millwood Better for Business Group last year. The company is also represented at community events like Valleyfest and matches employee contributions to a diverse range of charitable causes.
“They’re always involved in community and stakeholder meetings,” Mork said. “They’ve been there consistently to help this town.”