From logging trees and creating pulp to manufacturing and converting paper into thousands of products, Wisconsin’s forest industry plays a large role in the state’s economy, generating $23.4 billion annually in output and employing more than 50,000 people, according to a 2023 study conducted by the Wisconsin Paper Council and the University of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s Native population plays a vital role in the state’s paper industry from Tribes using sustainable practices in their logging businesses and entities like Menominee Tribal Enterprises (MTE) manufacturing lumber and forest products, to Native-owned companies that transport lumber, pulp, paper and converted goods. Paper-converted goods include everything from toilet paper and facial wipes to food packaging and disposable medical gowns.
MTE manages a 235,000-acre forest and its wood has been used to create the basketball courts at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee and the Oshkosh Arena, among others. Just over a year ago, MTE received a $5 million federal grant through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to rebuild its sawmill in Neopit, which was originally constructed in 1905. The project will boost Wisconsin’s forest product industry and will create 50 jobs, retain 10 jobs, and generate $2 million in private investment, according to government estimates.
Wisconsin’s paper industry — especially its converting industry, which grew 16% in the past five years — continues to grow, providing a prime opportunity for Native entrepreneurs and small businesses to get involved.
“Menominee Tribal Enterprises is committed to growing our partnerships with our logging and trucking contractors. They play a crucial role in helping to manage our forest, bring material to our mill for processing, and, in some cases, help us deliver the product to our customers,” said MTE President Michael A. Skenadore.
Skenadore said three Native-run organizations — Bay Bank, First American Capital Corporation (FACC), and Woodland Financial Partners — make it financially possible for Native contractors and businesses to participate in Wisconsin’s forest product industry. “The costs associated with the equipment needs of these hardworking and dedicated contractors are a huge barrier to entering this market. Without the support of these organizations, the barriers would prove to be too much,” he said.
The Oneida Tribe owns Bay Bank, which is headquartered in Green Bay (with a location in Keshena) and is the only tribal-owned bank in Wisconsin. A nonprofit organization, FACC is a Native Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) certification and a designated SBA Microlender that provides financing and technical assistance to Native, Tribal, and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise businesses and entrepreneurs. Woodland Financial Partners is also a CDFI and provides financing and development services for entrepreneurs and small business owners who are members of the state’s 11 federally recognized tribes.
FACC has worked with several small businesses involved in the state’s paper industry. Eagle Feather Trucking LLC in Oneida, for example, turned to FACC to get funding for a newer truck it could use as it transports lumber and other products.
“My favorite part of working with FACC is that they genuinely seem to care,” said Linda Jorgenson, owner of Eagle Feather Trucking. As the business looks to the future, “we are hoping FACC will be there to assist us with continued loans and workshops.”