A Lewisburg accountant says he is working on a deal to purchase Wood-Mode's assets and is reaching out to the 938 displaced employees for help.
"We recognize that this has been a troubling week for you and at times very confusing," Maurice Brubaker, owner of Brubaker Group LLC, wrote in a letter posted online Sunday to the former employees of his intention to form a new corporation and purchase the assets of the "failed" company from owners Robert and Brooks Gronlund.
"There would be a new corporation formed to manage the business and we anticipate returning jobs to the local community" with a focus on increasing sales and profitability and maintaining "an excellent workforce," the letter said.
The deal, Brubaker said, would rely on the financial support of former Wood-Mode employees investing in the new company's stock.
"Any amount is appreciated as the deal is dependent on your participation," he said.
Calls to Robert Gronlund, CEO and board chairman, and his son, Brooks Gronlund, president and chief operating officer, were not returned.
Brubaker would not confirm that he has spoken to the Gronlunds or discuss their response to his offer.
Many have responded online with a keen interest in the venture that included new management and Brubaker said he's working on responding individually to about 200 emails he's received in the day since he posted the letter online.
"I would appreciate a face to face Q & A. We have been burned, and I am treading lightly, but am interested," said Cathy A. Romig-Lauver.
Jennifer Seler Renninger was happy to see a local firm taking charge. "Small town at its finest," she said.
Several employees said their emails to Brubaker asking for more information have failed to yield a response.
Brubaker said he's received about 200 emails and has begun to respond to each of them. "I want to be totally transparent," he said.
He said the deal he's working on with a "team" of executives experienced in more than 80 mergers and acquisitions would require the newly formed corporation company to reach a deal to purchase Wood-Mode's assets and leave the Gronlund's to handle the corporate debt they incurred. The Gronlunds would have no controlling interest or involvement in the new corporation, Brubaker said.
He would not immediately identify the investment or mergers and acquisitions professionals he's working with, preferring to contact them first. The legal firm he's hired is McNees Wallace and Nurick of Harrisburg.
"We need to raise millions of dollars to acquire the company," said Brubaker who said the matter of the debt and whether creditors approve of the deal could hold up the transaction. He said he hasn't yet decided how much of his own money he'll invest.
Paul Hitesman, a former training manager at Wood-Mode who was laid off last week after nearly 22 years, said acquiring the company and turning it into an employee-owned corporation is something to explore.
"I think it's fantastic what (Brubaker and his associates) are trying to do. Wood-Mode employees are the most skilled people I know. I miss seeing their faces every day," he said.
Hitesman's concern is that the debt, along with the outdated factory, equipment and computer system, could be too big a hurdle.
"That's the Gronlunds' debt. To me, the burden is on them and no one should invest before they take care of it," he said.
Brian Wilson, a former product inspector who was laid off last week after 26 years, said there is a lot of interest among employees who want the company to be revived.
"Maybe we're all grasping at straws," he said. "It's a great idea to have employees invest, but there's a lot of debt and the Wood-Mode brand is definitely tarnished" by the sudden closure, he said. "The company's reputation is hurt, but it's not because of the employees. The ownership is at fault."
Brubaker said he has "zero" connection to Wood-Mode but was moved to action to save a company that employed so many well-regarded employees for 77 years in Snyder County.
"When the plant was shut down it really bothered me," he said. "It was the number one place for people to work. This deal would keep revenue ... and people in the area. I'm sick of seeing jobs go out of the area. This one's just too big to let go."
Laid-off Wood-Mode employees endured a tumultuous week starting with the abrupt plant closure on Monday, May 13 and ending with the sudden announcement in a text message Friday afternoon that all insurance benefits were ending as of midnight.