“Clustering” isn’t a new strategy in the graphic arts industry. It’s the idea that printing companies and related businesses should be grouped together for efficiency and ease of access. A cluster in a printing building might consist of a commercial or a trade plant plus a supporting cast of independent binderies, plate shops, color prepress services, and brokers. Most big cities have had printing clusters along these lines, and sometimes state and municipal governments offer help to get them started.

As far as this writer knows, the scheme hasn’t been applied in the paper manufacturing industry. If this is correct, a precedent of sorts could be set as a result of yesterday’s meeting of the New England Paper Cluster, a consortium that wants to return the state of Massachusetts to some of the prominence it used to enjoy as a center for paper production.

The goal isn’t to physically relocate the state’s papermaking plants or the printing and packaging companies that depend on them. In this case, “clustering” means aligning their interests, giving them a unified voice, and creating a climate for attracting more paper business to Massachusetts, particularly in the western region where it once thrived.

The June 22 meeting in Springfield was scheduled to include appearances by U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal and Thomas O'Connor, CEO of Mohawk Fine Papers. According to this report, attendees were to include a cross-section of the state’s leading paper companies and packaging firms. Besides a briefing by the congressman, on the agenda were an update about a campaign by the Paper and Packaging Board (P+PB) to promote paper products; and a report on the decision by Mohawk Fine Papers to build a new envelope plant in western Massachusetts.

The New England Paper Cluster has the support of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts (EDC), which sponsors similar clusters for other industries. It is professionally managed by The Markens Group, a management firm whose principal, Ben Markens, also is president of the Paperboard Packaging Council (PPC).