A smooth transition: St. Croix Industries set to become ESR-Wisconsin
Early next week, the bright blue sign with block letters spelling out “St. Croix Industries” at 1525 N. Fourth St. in New Richmond will be replaced with a sign for ESR-Wisconsin.
The St. Croix County Board of Supervisors voted in August to begin the process of converting St. Croix Industries (SCI) to a private nonprofit organization, and that transition is scheduled to be completed by Tuesday, April 1, when East Suburban Resources (ESR) takes over operations of the facility and its programs.
SCI’s mission is “to provide habilitation and rehabilitation programs to residents of St. Croix County who are developmentally disabled and/or mentally ill, in order to assist them in achieving their highest level of personal, social, and vocational functioning while fostering inclusion in the community,” and Ed Boeve, executive director of ESR believes his organization is the logical choice to take over St. Croix County’s operation.“It’s a nice fit,” Boeve said. “We thought from the beginning that choosing us was a no-brainer.”
ESR is a nonprofit organization that currently serves more than 370 people with disabilities at four program centers in Washington County, Minnesota: Stillwater, Oakdale, Cottage Grove and Forest Lake. The centers offer therapeutic services, work services, prevocational activities and even some recreational opportunities including an art program.The sort of work programs run by SCI are nothing new for ESR, which will celebrate its 50-year anniversary on April 7.“It was started by some parents who had sons and daughters with disabilities who couldn’t get into school, because schools didn’t have to offer special education back then in the early ‘60s,” Boeve said. “It was started as a substitute for elementary school. When those kids went to school after the special education law was passed, then the company shifted and started serving a few adults, but mostly kids before they went to school. The early years were primarily kid-focused.”Since those early years, laws have continued to reshape the public education system, and ESR has offered services only for adults since the late 1980s.
Though the goal is to keep the transition as seamless as possible, some things will change.“Privatizing is going to result in some changes,” Boeve said. “My understanding is that the county wasn’t assertive in terms of fundraising events. Government entities usually aren’t. I don’t know the way it is now, but we try to be quite visible and participate in the communities we serve, so I think a change is that we might be more visible, but I hesitate to say that because I don’t know how visible they have been.”The most obvious change will be new branding. On-site signs that say “St. Croix Industries” and “SCI” will be replaced with the ESR-Wisconsin’s branding and logos.“It’s going to be temporary signage, because we don’t know how permanent this location is for us, so we’re not spending a lot of money on the signage,” Boeve said.Branding on SCI vehicles will take place within six months, Boeve said.Clients will get the day off from their jobs on Monday, March 31, while staff members undergo a day of ESR transition training, according to SCI rehabilitation coordinator Colleen Hammer. After the transition, Hammer will be director of operations for ESR-Wisconsin.“My goal in this crossover training is to introduce the new staff to the clients. That’s critical,” Hammer said. “When the clients come in on April 1, I want them to know who’s going to take them in. I want them to at least have a face and a name of who they’re going to get support from on that first day and moving forward.”
Current SCI executive director Clark Schroeder said of SCI’s 20-plus employees, some would fit into roles with ESR, others would fill other positions within St. Croix County government, and a few — including Schroeder himself — would need to seek employment elsewhere. In fact, he said multiple employees had already left their county jobs in anticipation of the transition. A total of 10 county employees have accepted jobs with ESR, according to Hammer, and multiple ESR employees will fill the facility’s staffing needs.Though the transition may provide a hard impact on a handful of county employees, the program’s clients can expect most things to remain the same.“Most of the clients are going to ride in the same van, come to the same building, sit in the same chair and do the same work,” Schroeder said. “The county is going to lease the building and the two storage buildings here and pay utilities for $2,000 per month, and we’re going to sell all the stuff inside, plus the vehicles.”Schroeder said the county originally explored leasing the space and the property inside to ESR, but ran into liability complications, so the county instead opted to sell ESR the items for a flat $10,000.