Panelists at a paper industry discussion in Appleton were optimistic about the future of the industry, but pointed to challenges ahead — chiefly, filling jobs.

“One of the biggest problems coming for the paper industry is the ‘silver tsunami,’” said Karyn Biasca, a professor and chair of the Paper Science and Chemical Engineering Department at UW-Stevens Point. “That is this upcoming wave of retirements of baby boomers.”

She says she’s been preparing students to backfill positions as retirees leave gaps in paper companies throughout the state.

“It could really be a crippling event for the paper industry if enough of their technical talent retired all at the same time without having some good talent to fill,” said Biasca, who spoke yesterday at the latest “Navigating the New Economy” event from and at the Paper Discovery Center.

Zack Leimkuehler, director of product and business development for Expera Specialty Solutions, says some of the company’s sites in Wisconsin could lose “40 to 50 percent” of their workers in the next five years.

“That’s a scary thing as a papermaker,” he said. “As you have that attrition, you lose technical knowledge, you lose all those years of history, all that … knowledge that just came with that generation.”

Reps. Katrina Shankland and Dave Murphy agreed on the importance of getting younger workers interested and involved with the workforce early on.

“How do we reach kids from when they’re 12, to when they’re 19, 20?” said Shankland, D-Stevens Point. “That difference is going to be really important to getting new people into the industry.” Read the full story here.