By Ryan Wynne
When Sherry and George Keizer originally decided to sell their USDA-certified meat processing facility for $1.6 million three months ago, they didn’t have one interested buyer. Now, they have about 40.
The 15-year-old business was at capacity last year and is in the process of expanding due to high demand. However, it’s not just demand for the facility that makes it an attractive buy.
The appeal is also that it will likely be purchased jointly for $10,000 per share. That price, and the importance of Keizer Meats to local meat producers, has brought approximately 40 buyers forward who have said they want to become part of a Keizer A A Meats corporation.
Sherry said she is comforted by the idea of the facility being jointly owned by community members, many of whom use the facility. She and George started thinking about selling the business after his heart attack in September, but they wanted to leave their customers in good hands, Sherry said. Joint ownership gives her that peace of mind, she said.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Sherry said. “That way I can rest easy knowing I didn’t leave any of our good, loyal customers high and dry.”
Sherry is particularly concerned about continued access to the facility because it is the only USDA-certified meat processing facility in Whatcom County. She is afraid of what could happen if a single buyer takes over the business, and either can’t handle all the responsibility that comes with running a meat processing facility, or decides to abandon meat processing altogether and use the facility to process something else, such as berries, she said.
Keizer Meats will still be available to all domestic meat producers, but a lot of those producers will also own shares in the company. Sherry said community ownership will likely make the transition of ownership easier on customers because many of them will also be owners.
Sherry isn’t alone in her enthusiasm for a jointly owned Keizer Meats. Ron Bennett, a local real estate agent and grass-fed beef producer, said having most of the facility’s ownership in the hands of those using it is a great idea.
Bennett first approached Sherry with idea of making Keizer a cooperative when the two buyers he had in mind for the facility didn’t pan out. When Sherry seemed keen on the idea, they organized a meeting to see how much interest there actually was in the community.
He said the meeting at the Lynden Senior Center was well attended and that people showed up wondering who to make checks out to.
People are interested in buying shares of Keizer Meats because they see it as a good business opportunity, Bennett said, but it’s more than that.
“A majority of investors wanted to join the co-op because they want to keep Keizer Meats as Keizer Meats,” Bennett said.
However, Bennett recently found out interested buyers cannot buy Keizer Meats as a cooperative because some don’t actually use the facility. He said most do, but some are retired at this point. Instead, he was advised to form a corporation, which he said wouldn’t operate differently than the cooperative.
Jeff Voltz, project manager for the Northwest Agriculture Business Center, said even though he favors the cooperative model, he understands the need to go the corporation route. In addition to selling shares to non-customers, the corporation model is quicker and easier to solidify, which allows for a faster sale.
He said both models allow for community ownership, and that is his concern.
“As long as the spirit of community exists within that organizational structure and members of the community own it, it’s a good thing,” Voltz said.
The corporation, after it is legally formed, will make a total of 180 shares available, Bennett said. Of that, $1.6 million will pay for the sale and the remaining $200,000 will go in an open account for the corporation, Bennett said. So far, he said, there are unofficially about 40 buyers purchasing a total of between 60 and 80 shares. Bennett is one of the prospective buyers and Sherry said she and George would also like to buy in, as long as there isn’t a conflict of interest.
Sherry said they have a likely individual buyer waiting in the wings just in case, for some reason, the corporation can’t come up with enough buyers. But she hopes enough people will buy in so Keizer Meats can continue serving the community as it does now, she said.
If the business is bought by the corporation, Sherry will stay on in her role as manager and HACAP coordinator.
Anyone interested in buying shares in the corporation or who wants to learn more about it is invited to attend a meeting at 7 p.m. on June 30 in the Lynden Senior Center at 401 Grover St.