When Columbian Home Products announced in fall 2019 that it would close its Crandon division, Snow River Products, the eight employees faced the prospect of losing their jobs. Many had been with the company for more than 30 years, and had few employment alternatives in the area. Snow River, a manufacturer of wooden cutting boards and bowls, had been operating in the area for more than 100 years, previously known as Bemis Manufacturing. Columbian Home Products had purchased the factory in 2002.
From employee to owner, as a cooperative
Snow River workers turned to their union for support. The International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers – Communications Workers of America (IUE-CWA) floated the idea that employees might buy their division and structure it as a worker-owned cooperative. Employees realized this was their best hope for saving their jobs and began learning the ropes over the next several months. The University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives (UWCC) and Cooperative Development Services (CDS), a regional co-op development center, helped the employees develop a business plan and governance structure. The organizations connected the workers to two sources of funding, Shared Capital Cooperative and the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund, which provided loans and a line of credit to the new cooperative.