HARTLAND — Irving Tanning Co., Hartland’s largest industry, will be a locally owned business by the end of January, according to an announcement made Tuesday by parent company Graham-Field Health Products Inc., or GFI, of Hauppage, N.Y.
For months, employees of Irving and residents of Hartland worried about what the impact of GFI’s acquisition of Irving’s parent company, Fuqua Enterprises Inc., would mean to the local operation.
Irving Tanning is Hartland’s lifeline, employing more than 500 people. The company prepares hides for leather goods, including shoes and other accessories.
Plans for the sale to GFI were announced last fall and formally completed Dec. 30, 1997. The acquisition of Fuqua, including the leather operations and the medical products divisions, was valued at $100 million.
On Tuesday, GFI announced the Hartland leather operations would be sold to the Irving management group, including Richard Larochelle, president and chief executive officer, for an overall price of $68 million including stock, cash and debt assumption.
It was widely known in the community that GFI’s focus is health care products as was Fuqua’s before it. The leather operations, although lucrative, were not compatible with the new parent company’s desire to be the leading supplier of durable medical products in the health care industry.
“The sale of the leather operations will enable Graham-Field to continue to focus its strategies and objectives on its traditional and core business in the medical products industry,” Irwin Selinger, GFI chairman of the board and chief executive officer, stated in the announcement. “The cash proceeds from the sale will retire debt acquired in connection with the Fuqua acquisition, reducing the overall cost of the acquisition and balance sheet.”
GFI’s conclusion that the tannery was incompatible with the parent copmany’s goals set the stage for Larochelle to put together an investment group to purchase the Hartland plant.
When plans were being made for the sale earlier this year, Larochelle said, “I’m very proud of the tannery’s accomplishments, and we’re confident the future will be very good for the company. One of our strengths is we have a strong and dedicated work force and an innovative product that is strong internationally.”
Larochelle, who was unavailable for an interview, stated in a Tuesday press release that news about the sale had generated excitement at the Hartland plant. The enthusiasm was not confined to the building, but echoed at the town office.
“We think it’s fantastic. It keeps things close to home,” Town Manager Peggy Morgan said Tuesday afternoon. “We were worried sick. Now there will be more of a local say in the operation.”
Morgan said Hartland relies on the company for more than employment. Over the years, Larochelle has built a relationship with the community that has aided many town projects. Irving contributions helped the town buy a firetruck, renovate and expand the library, buy tables and chairs for the fire hall, sponsor local sports teams, and soon will contribute to a new community center.