The trailer-to-tandems maker has joined corporate America, foresaking its status as one of Oregon's oldest, and best known, worker-owned co-operatives.

Burley incorporates; may be bought

Burley’s board of directors sent a letter to shareholders which said the change from co-operative to corporation represents "nothing less than a last-ditch attempt to save Burley – the jobs it provides for members, the contribution it makes to the community, and the excellence in product design and manufacturing that it represents."

The concern has been loss-making for the last three years and the board of directors warned "without dramatic changes, by early fall we fear we will have to close Burley’s doors – for ever."

Eugene, Oregon, newspaper The Register-Guard obtained the directors’ letter from disgruntled former members of the co-op, who say their retained dividends in the business are now almost worthless.

The letter said the co-operative structure of the business was an impediment to any rescue package:

"Neither banks nor investors are willing to take a risk on a company with a cooperative structure," said the letter.

Burley has 50 worker-owners and employs a further 60 people in a part of Oregon once noted for the number of co-operatives.

Burley Design Cooperative is now Burley Design Inc.

The business remains worker-owned in the same proportion as under the cooperative, and the same management team and board of directors will guide the company, said a statement from Burley.

The Register-Guard speculates that a buy-out is on the cards.

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