The Flambeau River Papers mill is seen with the Flambeau River in the foreground. Image by Mike De Sisti. USA, 2012.

For generations, a key part of the economy in northern Wisconsin has been the trees that grow in abundance. Where once the area was over-forested, trees are now generally a renewable crop in the North Woods, and the industry includes everything from harvesting the trees, to milling them, to making the paper.

But the last decade has been rough on Wisconsin’s paper industry. The emergence of digital media has reduced paper’s demand, and now tough competition is coming from some surprising places.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel economics writer John Schmid tells the story of Wisconsin’s paper industry in a series that wraps up today in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. His “Paper Cuts” series, appropriately enough, has both a print and an online, multimedia component.

Schmid says little has been reported about Wisconsin's paper-making economy because it's a "quiet industry" that creates a ubiquitous product.

"Paper, of course, which basically is what advanced civilization since Gutenberg, since the Renaissance, is something that you don't really attach a sexy brand to," he says. "It's not like an Apple iPhone. It's not like a Porsche automobile. It's got almost no identity and almost no value until you print something on it, and then it becomes a book, a novel."

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Faced with the devastating twin threats of digital and China, can a critical Wisconsin industry survive?

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