I Tried and Failed to Get Jeff Bezos to Save My Hometown

At least entrepreneur Justin Vandehey learned some valuable lessons
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 6, 2022 3:05 PM CST
I Tried and Failed to Get Jeff Bezos to Save My Hometown
Paper is big business in Wisconsin, but it's also volatile.   (Getty - hxdyl)

Jeff Bezos will not save the paper mill and—by extension—the local economy in the town of Wisconsin Rapids, but at least he considered the idea thanks to entrepreneur Justin Vandehey. Writing for Entrepreneur, Vandehey explains he has some credibility in the tech startup arena but no experience with paper, politics, or economics. What he does have is an abiding love for his hometown of, yes, Wisconsin Rapids, and a willingness to delve deep into the paper business in the state, which has more mills, sells more paper, and has more paper-related employees than any other, per the Badger Herald. When the Wisconsin Rapids mill, owned by Verso, announced in July 2020, that it would close due to pandemic-related pressures, Vandehey stepped up to see if he could come up with a workable rescue plan.

At the time, Amazon had an exponentially increasing business and a huge need for paper-based packaging, so Vandehey learned all he could about Amazon’s paper supply and packaging initiatives—enough to craft a proposal for what he summarizes as a "vertically integrated solution to own the end-to-end supply chain." Bezos bit and agreed to a meeting. The meeting didn’t end as Vandehey hoped. He's a little cagey as to why ("I was asked to step aside for reasons of confidentiality") but he suspects cost and timing were big ones. Other mill operators, for example, we already transitioning cardboard when the pandemic hit and demand for same-day delivery skyrocketed. A Swedish firm has since bought the Verso mill but hasn't shared its plans for it. As such, 900 employees and a town's economy remain in limbo. (Read the full piece.)

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