Co-op Development Spotlight: Snow River Cooperative

Snow River Cooperative Preserves Rural Jobs

Snow River Cooperative specializes in quality bowls and cutting boards made of repurposed wood, making each piece uniquely beautiful and environmentally friendly.

Rural Rootsmap of Wisconsin with Crandon highlightedCrandon is located 84 miles northeast of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and is the county seat of Forest County. There is not a single traffic light or parking meter in the whole county. Boasting a dense forest, the area has been heavily influenced by the boom and bust of the lumber and manufacturing industries. It is an area where retaining jobs is important. It is also home to one of Wisconsin’s newest cooperatives: Snow River Cooperative.

A Longtime Employer
Snow River Cooperative is the latest iteration of a wood manufacturing company with a history that stretches back over one hundred years. Bemis Manufacturing was started in 1901 in Sheboygan Falls, WI. In 1965, Bemis established a woodworking plant in Crandon that specialized in making items such as bowling pins, parts for sleds, croquet balls, and baseball bats. In 2002, the plant was purchased by Columbian Home Products, which manufactured home goods and kitchenware.

Workers Take the Reins
When the owner of Columbia Home Products decided to exit the business, the employees of a profitable division of the company that focused on quality wooden bowls and cutting boards, turned to their union for support. The local union engaged the national union, which began exploring the possibility of the workers purchasing their division of the company and structuring it as a worker-owned cooperative.

The workers, many of whom have been with the company for over 30 years, decided to pursue the idea, knowing it was their best chance at saving their jobs. The University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives and Cooperative Development Services provided education on the cooperative business model, technical assistance with the business plan and legal documents, and referrals to lenders and attorneys. Shared Capital Cooperative and Local Enterprise Assistance Fund, lenders specializing in cooperatives, provided loans and a new line of credit.

Founding members of snow river cooperative
Founding members of snow river cooperative

After six months of exploration and planning, Snow River Cooperative officially incorporated in April 2020, saving eight union jobs and retaining this successful manufacturing business in rural Wisconsin.

Resources on cooperative conversion to employee ownership