ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A family-owned Albuquerque paper company has landed a state grant that will help it plot a more sustainable future.
Earlier this month, the New Mexico Economic Development Department awarded a $100,000 grant through the Local Economic Development Act to Roses Southwest Papers, which has produced napkins, toilet paper and other paper products for hospitals and restaurants since it was founded in the mid-1980s by Roberto and Rose Marie Espat.
“This is a homegrown manufacturing company that sells its products across the United States,” said Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Alicia Keyes in a prepared statement. “Roses brings jobs and dollars into New Mexico and the state will stand by these businesses so they can continue to grow and hire workers through this health emergency.”
While the grant was originally intended to fund a massive expansion in both equipment and employees, James LaFata, chief administrative officer and in-house legal council for the paper company, said the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted the company to temporarily wait on its planned growth operations.
However, LaFata said the grant funding will still help the company fulfill its long-term growth plans, and will go toward offsetting the planned increase in electricity usage by converting to solar energy.
“Overall, we’ve been trying to move toward a more sustainable operation,” LaFata said.
Before the pandemic reached New Mexico in March, LaFata said the company had been looking to add employees along with two new equipment lines and a new conveyor to accommodate the needs of a large fast-food chain it sells products to. However, the spread of the virus slowed the company’s momentum.
More than half of Roses Southwest’s business comes from selling paper products to the restaurant industry, ranging from large fast-food chains to local casual-dining restaurants, LaFata said.
The restaurant industry has been among the hardest-hit by the pandemic, with nearly 3 million industry jobs lost nationwide from March through July, according to data from the National Restaurant Association.
LaFata said Roses Southwest’s business has suffered along with the rest of the industry, with sales down by around 30% since the beginning of the pandemic, even accounting for the spike in toilet paper sales in the spring.
“At the end of the day, that’s meant a lot of open capacity on our machines,” LaFata said.
Still, pandemics don’t last forever, and the company still intends to eventually hire more than 30 additional employees and expand its production lines. LaFata said the new equipment will increase production but also require more energy.
To do that sustainably, LaFata said Roses Southwest is working with a local solar company to help power those machines.
The paper company is still looking at its options, but LaFata said the shift could save Roses Southwest up to $180,000.
“Once the system is installed, we’ll see those savings almost immediately,” he said.