Northwoods Paper Converting, a Beaver Dam company employing more than 100 people, is being sold to an Appleton firm.
A letter to Northwoods employees dated March 13 announced that the company is being acquired by Progressive Converting (Pro-Con). NPC co-owners Chad Abel and Jim Moreau will retain ownership of the plant at 230 Corporate Drive, which will be leased by Pro-Con to house local operations. An NPC plant in Pennsylvania will be closed, with NPC operations there being consolidated into an existing Pro-Con facility.
“We have been exploring opportunities to expand into a national converter for the last couple of years due to existing customer potential,” Abel said. “To accomplish this task, we researched a few different scenarios and found a merger with Pro-Con was a perfect fit for our employees and customer base.”
The deal has been considered for more than a dozen years.
“This is actually the third time we talked with Pro-Con,” Abel said. “The first time was in 2006 and we looked at some strategic things then. In 2010, we talked with them and almost merged at that time. This time it worked.”
Growth at NPC would probably have required constructing additional facilities. Merging with a competitor already equipped to meet those needs makes sense for both.
“Jim and I will continue to run Beaver Dam, and I will probably be involved with Pro-Con’s corporate headquarters working on some business development and sales strategies,” Abel said. “Maybe we’ll be moving equipment between the plants when it makes sense, or move customers between plants, depending on what’s more efficient.
“Rather than going head to head, we’ve come together and are stronger together. The only real change we’re expecting here will be changing the name on the door.”
Northwoods started its operation in Fall River with a 35,000-square-foot facility, four employees and one production line. A second production line was installed just before the company moved to Beaver Dam in 2003. At that time, the company reopened in a new 60,000-square-foot facility. A 95,000-square-foot addition was completed in 2009, followed by an 85,000-square-foot expansion in 2015. Northwoods acquired its Pennsylvania plant in 2012.
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Northwoods Paper Converting was named “Business of the Year” by the Beaver Dam Chamber of Commerce in 2017.
“We are excited about the opportunities this acquisition presents to the customers and employees of both companies,” said Dan Curtin, president and CEO of Pro-Con. “By combining, we expand and strengthen our capabilities to meet the demands of our customers, which are changing rapidly. This will accelerate our plan to expand into additional geographic markets, allowing our customers to look to Pro-Con as a single source to handle their converting needs across North America.”
Pro-Con is substantially larger. Abel guesses that NPC is about 20 percent of the size of Pro-Con, which started about 20 years earlier than NPC. Despite competing in the same markets, Abel said he has always held a great deal of respect for Pro-Con.
“We have always admired Pro-Con’s growth, hard work, service platform and competition,” Abel said. “As we move forward as a combined entity, I am excited to see how far we can push the limits in distribution and converting.”
Abel shared his enthusiasm for his employees, calling them the main reason for the company’s success and a substantial part of its value. He also credits Moreau, who defers to Abel when it comes to talking, for making their successes possible.
“Companies buy other companies for the employees,” Abel said. “Anyone can buy equipment, but the key is find the right personnel to run it. Pro-Con bought us for the employees first, strategic second, and equipment and buildings third. My business partner and our employees have done an incredible job building NPC to what it is today and now we’ll take it to another level with Pro-Con.
“No doubt the sale is a shock. It’s a big change, but from how we see it it’s a very positive one. Certainly our hunger will never end. If it does, we’ll probably be dead.”
About no longer being the company president, he added goodnaturedly, “Now I have a boss, in addition to my mom and my wife.”