success story

Snow River Cooperative: Employees Buy Former Company

Saving jobs in northern Wisconsin

Crandon factory workers buy company to prevent shutdown

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.

Saving jobs and quality manufacturing

After six months of research, training and planning, Snow River Cooperative incorporated in April 2020 and became one of the few worker-owned manufacturing co-ops in Wisconsin. The eight employees held onto their jobs. Snow River continues to make products from repurposed wood, left over from other companies’ manufacturing of wood products such as cabinets and flooring. With ongoing support from UWCC, CDS and Northcountry Cooperative Foundation, Snow River grew its revenue significantly in 2020 and expected a profitable fiscal year.

Projects such as the conversion of Snow River to a cooperative are a win-win. They’re good for workers and good for the economic vitality of rural communities.”

- Courtney Berner, Executive Director, University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives