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Plant construction, 1948.

A company in the United States reaching its centennial anniversary is worth celebrating.

On June 16, 2011, USA Today published an article celebrating IBM’s entrance to an “elite group of 100-year-old-companies.” According to Jim Collins, management expert and an author quoted in the article, “Companies that survive 100 years or longer are ‘a special and rarefied group.’” At the time of the article, 486 out of 5,000 U.S. publicly traded companies and 23 private companies were 100 years or older.

Dairy cooperatives are an even smaller population. In the U.S., the number of farmer-owned dairy cooperatives peaked at 2,374 in 1940-1941.That number rapidly declined; and by 1975, there were 631 dairy co-ops. In 2007, there were only 155. Quickly surveying the annual list of the top 50 dairy cooperatives in the U.S., assembled by Hoard’s Dairyman, less than 10 have celebrated their 100th anniversary. The Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA) is proud to be one of those enduring 10.

In reaching its centennial anniversary, a company experiences growing pains along the way. Board of directors and/or company management are forced to react to outside forces like supply and demand, market share, competition, new product development, changes in customer base, etc. The way a company reacts can help or hinder its growth and longevity.

In TCCA’s case, from the day the co-op was formed in 1909, there has been constant change. There have only been seven leaders of our organization, each making decisions, reactively or proactively, in the best interests of the company to keep TCCA sustainable as a business. Some of those decisions were difficult, some were costly, yet each one of them strengthened the co-op and Tillamook brand and ensured it would be around for another decade.

Carl Haberlach: Carl had the foresight to suggest a co-op would make the little creameries in the county more successful and profitable if they standardized the quality of the cheese to ensure that only the best cheese made in Tillamook County was produced and shipped to market. Under his leadership, TCCA developed a quality program that made Tillamook cheese known for is quality, consistency and flavor. The Tillamook brand was trademarked and TCCA began an advertising plan. A market quickly began to develop outside of Oregon and the immediate territory.

George Lawson: George began to modernize all of TCCA’s procedures (modern for 1942) and, with the board, began to plan for the centralization of all cheesemaking.

Beale Dixon: Beale was hired when Lawson unexpectedly died and he picked up the pieces in full stride. He oversaw the final completion of the new, centrally-located Tillamook Cheese Factory and the final consolidation of cheesemaking in the county. Dixon knew it was important to expand the reach of Tillamook and traveled all over the West shaking hands and meeting store owners. In his nearly 25 years managing TCCA, Dixon understood the importance of fighting for what he believed was right both for the co-op and the dairy farmers.

Pete Sutton: Pete saw to the installation of the automated cheddaring system, new cheese vats, the Cheddarmaster and blockforming towers. He knew the value of marketing and promotion. He oversaw the expansion of the Visitors Center at the Tillamook Cheese Factory, making it a true promotional opportunity where visitors could observe the production, view a slideshow, tour a museum and shop for cheese.  An ice cream dipping counter was added, which took off like a rocket!

Harold Schild: Harold oversaw improvements to the processes and upgrades to the facility. He saw to the construction of the corporate office, the automated cold storage warehouse (ASRS), allowing TCCA to store approximately 50 million pounds of cheese on-site, and TCCA’s second cheesemaking plant in Boardman.

Jim McMullen: Jim was closely tied to the facility upgrades, and, as vice president of operations under Harold Schild, directly, saw to the construction of the ASRS and Boardman plant. As CEO, Jim oversaw further facility upgrades in Tillamook, the addition of new cheeses and products to the Tillamook dairy products family, and the expansion of the Boardman plant, doubling the size of the facility and increasing TCCA’s total cheesemaking capacity in order to meet the growing demand.

Harold Strunk: Harold, TCCA’s current president and CEO, brought the co-op into its second century. Since 2007, he’s directed the consolidation of multiple, disconnected software systems, databases and spreadsheets into one integrated system to provide TCCA with accurate, real-time visibility into its inventory and financial transactions across the entire company, allowing the company to deliver to its customers what they want and when they want it. He’s lead the company to achieve its Level 2 Safe Quality Foods certification under the Global Food Safety Initiative, which necessitates facility upgrades to remain SQF compliant and to replace or repair aging equipment and facilities that are causing quality and safety concerns. Since 2009 when the company and community celebrated 100 years during a fun, year-long centennial celebration, as a leader, Harold has made strides to position TCCA for future successes, ensuring its longevity and that of our farmer-owners, and, by extension, the Tillamook community.

Each of TCCA’s leaders faced tough decisions during their tenure: Do we help the company grow, increase sales and expand the market for Tillamook cheese and invest in its future, ensuring the company and its farmer-owners will continue to be successful? Or do we stay a regional co-op with a market limited to the Pacific Northwest and risk the longevity of the company? TCCA’s history has shown that it was a wise choice to choose to grow. In the last 50 years, TCCA has grown from a local cooperative primarily serving customers within the Pacific Northwest to a $500 million national organization with distribution to all 50 states, and we offer our thanks to the leaders that have helped keep our farmer-owned co-op strong over 100 years.


Krantz, Matt, and Swartz, Jon. “IBM joins elite group of 10-year-old-companies.” USA Today June 16, 2011. Online.

Cropp, Bob, Graf, Truman. “History and Role of Dairy Cooperatives.” January 2001. Agricultural Cooperative Service, USDA

Shields, Dennis. “Consolidation and Concentration in the U.S. Dairy Industry.” April 27, 2010. Congressional Research Service


Bill Helwig

Can you tell me the names of the four local cheese factories that consolidated operations in the new cheese factory in 1949?

April 20th, 2014 at 11:38 pm
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