Celebrating 100 Years
Milestone Achievement for Mid-States Wool GrowersMid-States Wool Growers Cooperative Association kicked off its second century in business with a celebration of its first 100 years on March 10 at the co-op’s warehouse in Canal Winchester, Ohio. More than 100 producers, employees and friends joined in the celebration, and the general consensus was that the wool warehouse looks pretty good for its age.
While the current physical building was built in 1995, the century-old company shows no signs of slowing down in its effort to serve the area’s sheep producers.
“Through sheep farmers coming together and deciding they wanted something different, they wanted something better,” said Mid-States General Manger Dave Rowe about the formation of the cooperative in 1918. “They wanted access to a market and they wanted a fair price. Through a lot of time in history and a lot of different events in history, Mid-States Wool Growers is still providing those producers with access to a fair market. We’re very proud to be here today and we’re happy that you’re here with us.
“We wanted to do something to recognize that this cooperative has made it 100 years, which in our industry is rather remarkable. We’ve seen everything from world wars to the great recession of 2008 to the Australian wool glut, and yet we’re still here. Back then, producers didn’t feel like they had market power and that they were being taken advantage of, so they formed this company. The second year in operation, they handled two million pounds of wool.”
The current warehouse is more than 20 years old, yet is still state-of-the-art in the industry. It has to be for Mid-States to function efficiently.
“What we do is different than what a lot of the folks do in the industry because we give smaller, farm flocks an opportunity to make an impact,” Rowe said. “We’re able to grade the wool and separate the wool in a way that provides producers with an opportunity to get the most for their wool. It’s kind of cool that it began that way 100 years ago, and we’re still essentially doing it the same way.”
Mid-States still relies on an individual to sort and class the wool, but a mechanical system of moving bins then carries each fleece to an appropriate storage area and drops it where it will then be bailed and packaged.
“I would kill to have this facility,” said ASI President Mike Corn, who traveled directly from the association’s spring legislative trip in Washington, D.C., to the Columbus, Ohio, area for the celebration. “It’s a completely different world from what we do out west with my operation, but this facility is very impressive.”
A rancher who bought a wool warehouse years ago, Corn has found memories of sharing the industry with Mid-States through the years.
“I have a lot of good friends in the industry who are here in this room today, and I met them all because of the wool trade,” he said. “This is a tough industry, but those of us who are in it are a bunch of die-hards. To be able to stay in business for 100 years is a great accomplishment and a testament to the leaders of Mid-States.”
The co-op has long been more than just a wool warehouse, however. Mid-States serves a vital role in supplying and educating sheep producers throughout the Midwest in addition to buying their wool. Just a few steps through the front door lies a shop stocked with everything a sheep producer could need, from supplements and medicine to lambing supplies and show equipment.
“We’ve been doing that for more than 60 years – serving as a source of supplies for sheep producers,” Rowe said. “We work primarily with sheep producers, and try to provide a lot of education. In this technology age, you lose that personal touch. People can pick up the phone and call us and we can provide a level of expertise that you can’t find by just looking at our website. Before the technology age, we didn’t have Google or YouTube. You relied upon people who were doing it to teach you and tell you. We’ve always had people who are a wealth of knowledge and can help producers. For the customers that we work with, I know that is appreciated, because I get notes and phone calls from them.”
Mid-States has found other ways to serve the sheep and wool industry through the years. In 1969, the co-op opened Woolen Square to showcase wool apparel and other wool products. The rise of wool apparel in department stores eventually spelled the demise of the retail location.
“I can remember loading our wool in the truck and coming to the big city,” said ASI Secretary/Treasurer Susan Shultz of Ohio. “We’d sell our wool at Mid-States, stock up on the supplies we needed for the next year and I always made time to stop by Woolen Square.”
The Mid-States celebration included an oral history of the co-op and a slideshow highlighting each of the three buildings Mid-States has called home in Ohio. The slideshow included photos and stories about the hundreds of employees and producers who have played a pivotal role in the co-op’s success.
Mid-States also owned warehouses in Kansas and South Dakota at various times in its recent history. Those buildings have since been closed and sold, allowing Mid-States to focus on running its facility in Ohio.
“We just needed to be more efficient, and the only way to do that was to concentrate on one facility,” Rowe said.
In 10 years with Mid-States, Rowe said the biggest change has been an expansion of territory for the co-op.
“We’ve had to go into new areas and increase our territory to find the volume of wool that we need,” he said. “From the wool side, the export market really ebbs and flows. But the draw down in sheep numbers has been the biggest change that I’ve seen in the industry.”
Sheep numbers might change, but Mid-States really hasn’t. It continues to provide service, education and information to producers the same way it has for the past 100 years.