A Fulton County co-op group has struck a tentative deal to buy the former Sterling Milk Co. dairy plant in Wauseon and plans to reopen the operation by November.
As a bonus, the deal includes Sterlena - the 14-foot-high fiber-glass cow whose image symbolized Sterling products and whose regular appearances at county fairs and parades made the faux-bovine a cause clbre in the county west of Toledo.
"Sterlena stays with us. She's been at the [Fulton] county fair all week and when that's over she's going back to the plant," said Randy Baker of Lyons, one of six people forming the new Sterlena Pride Dairy Cooperative, which is buying the plant.
"The college kids who all pledged their money to keep her here can relax," he said. "She's staying put."
A week ago, the co-op gave the plant's owners, Nesnah Ventures LLC, of Holmen, Wis., earnest money to seal the purchase. The deal is expected to close in a few weeks.
After that, Mr. Baker, a former Sterling plant employee, said cleanup will begin in the building in downtown Wauseon. Milk and other dairy-product production should begin by late October or early November, he added.
At peak production, the plant made 150,000 gallons of milk daily, along with popular specialty items, such as chocolate milk, cottage cheese, chip dip, and sour cream.
"There's a lot of people out there wanting Sterling's products and that's what I want to give 'em," Mr. Baker said, even though Nesnah Ventures sold the Sterling stores and brand name in May to Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., of Montreal, which folded the Sterling stores into its Circle K chain.
The Wisconsin firm closed the plant and Sterling's Wauseon headquarters and a warehouse in nearby Delta, idling 38 employees.
Mr. Baker said the reopened plant will market products under the Sterlena Pride name and it has deals lined up to sell them in grocery and non-Circle K convenience stores.
"The name will be different, but it'll be the same products, produced by the same employees, and made in the same plant," he said.
The plant will employ 10 workers at first - all of them former Sterling plant employees.
The co-op has six members: Mr. Baker, ex-Sterling employee Dale Nagel, and four area dairy farmers. But others have expressed interest in joining, Mr. Nagel said.
Tim Brennan, vice president of Nesnah Ventures, said the co-op group came forward first with an offer, but there were other bidders.
"Wauseon has certainly been fair with us and we're excited to work with them," he said.
Despite speculation that Sterlena might be moved to Wisconsin, that was never a consideration, he said.
The bovine statue played a huge part in rallying the community behind the effort to secure the plant for the co-op, Mr. Nagel said.
A group made up mainly of college students began a "Save Sterlena!" effort on the Internet Web site Facebook, and eventually attracted hundreds of supporters who pledged a total of $10,000 to buy the fake bovine and keep it in Wauseon.
Then a humorous counter-group launched a "Kill Sterlena!" campaign that lampooned the first group's efforts.
"That cow actually would have been an expensive thing to replace," Mr. Nagel said. "But people had an attachment to it and it became a rallying cry on the Internet sites. We decided to call ourselves Sterlena Pride to honor those people that gave us free publicity to save the cow."
The group also got support from former Sterling wholesale and retail customers, which in turned helped convince banks that buying the plant was a good investment, Mr. Baker said.
"I just want to give back to northwest Ohio what they've been asking for," Mr. Baker said, referring to the milk.
Contact Jon Chavez at:
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