A spur-of-the-moment stop in Baraboo prompted W.R. Sauey to bring what would become a 3,150-employee business empire to Sauk County. On Tuesday the city honored Sauey’s success and thanked him for his charitable contributions by handing him a Gem Award.
Mayor Mike Palm periodically recognizes citizens who make the “Gem City” a better place to live. In reading a resolution in Sauey’s honor, Palm said it should be “known that W. R. Sauey is recognized as a true Baraboo gem. The city of Baraboo extends its heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to W. R. for his commitment to our fair city.”
Sauey founded the Nordic Group of Companies, which includes several local subsidiaries. With wife Floy Sauey, he created a nonprofit foundation that supports numerous causes.
“It’s been a long road,” Sauey said in accepting the award, voice quavering as he thanked his wife for her devotion and recalled his humble start as an entrepreneur. “It all started, what I call, from scratch.”
Sauey borrowed money to start Flambeau Plastics in northern Wisconsin in 1947, following family members into the plastics game. He found transportation of goods too slow in the hinterland, and sought to relocate. On a trip to Chicago in 1949, he decided on a whim to visit Baraboo. Sauey found the Chamber of Commerce office closed for lunch, but also found a police officer who called the executive at home.
“Otherwise I would’ve driven away,” Sauey said. “That’s where it all started in Baraboo.”
A few minutes later, the Chamber of Commerce executive arrived. Within a year Flambeau had a small plant in Baraboo with 20 workers. Nearly 70 years later, Flambeau has 13 plants and employs more than 1,800 people.
“We always liked small cities,” Sauey said. “I believe in people. That’s what made our business.”
Sauey and his family went on to create the Nordic Group, which includes Flambeau, Seats Incorporated, Columbia Par Car and PACJETS Financial. The companies manufacture products ranging from duck decoys to art supply bins to motorized carts. Combined they gross more than $300 million annually.
He and his wife also created the Sauey Family Foundation in 1998 to give back to the communities the company serves. It has supported the Oschner Park Zoo, International Crane Foundation, Al. Ringling Theatre, Circus World, Hope House and People Helping People. Baraboo High School’s football team plays its home games on Flambeau Field.
Plus, Sauey was instrumental in bringing the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin to Baraboo in 1953 in the form of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
Sauey said the family remains committed to thriving in business and meeting community needs. “We are working hard to do better,” he said.