Rare are the people, business and industries left unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic. Even places like rural Price County, Wisconsin – a Northwoods community with just 14,000 residents and only two confirmed COVID-19 cases to-date – were recently shut down with most of the rest of the nation… and much of the world.
Price County is a scenic and sleepy paradise for its residents and visiting anglers. It’s home to more than 400 lakes – the majority of them officially unnamed – as well as St. Croix Rod, which was shuttered for over five weeks in compliance with orders from the State of Wisconsin.
St. Croix’s story has evolved throughout its 70-plus-year history. The company has experienced and survived twists and turns and challenges – some unique, and others emblematic of larger societal and economic impact, such as COVID-19. All have been met with consistently gritty determination. The result is the most advanced fishing rod facility on earth and a brand that has earned the respect and admiration of anglers around the world.
St. Croix resumed manufacturing operations with limited staff on May 26. And aside from legions of St. Croix anglers, nobody was more excited about St. Croix getting back to business than company CEO, Scott Forristall.
“After all these weeks of the place being empty, the energy is great,” a grateful Forristall relays. “It’s great to see people back working, and the really gratifying part is that the people working want to be here. St. Croix is an incredible company and we enjoy a great culture. St. Croix is a family-owned company and working here means you are an extension of that family. There’s a renewed energy to prove that we make the Best Rods on Earth®, and that we’re going to continue to be the best.”
Forristall’s comments may sound like executive-level cheerleading, but that’s all part of his job. The thing is, it’s something he has to do far less than many CEOs at other companies. St. Croix employees at all levels are delivering the same message.
“I’ve been here almost five years,” says St. Croix Production Supervisor, Brandi Schmidt. “I didn’t think the St. Croix culture could get any better, but it has. We live and work in a small community, so people have always had close ties to one another, but now we’ve come together even closer. Our people are thankful to be back, and everyone is coming together across the plant and helping each other every day to get caught up and closer to normal. It’s good. It’s really good.”
The day she was interviewed for this story, Brandi was focused on rebuilding inventory of St. Croix’ s Premier Series of rods – the top-selling family of American-made rods for over a decade running.
“I know these have a special place in the minds of my team members, because Premier has been in production in Park Falls longer than any other. When we see Premier rods on the schedule, it resonates that there have been over 60 years of Premier rods coming thru this factory. There is a real sense of pride to make sure that the rods we produce today live up to that legacy.”
Jo Murphy, a more recent addition to the St. Croix team, dives deeper. “I’ve made so many wonderful friends here and it’s like working with family,” she says. “Personally, I am excited to be back at work. I missed coming to St. Croix and seeing my family. Park Falls is such a tight knit community that we all realized how much we missed working together That, and the fact that we kept hearing how many more people were going fishing these days, made us want to get back to making the Best Rods on Earth for our anglers.”
Director of Engineering and Manufacturing, Jason Brunner has been at St. Croix for over 20 years. “Challenges like these, while difficult, also can provide moments of clarity. I think anyone who has lived through this pandemic can appreciate what I mean,” says Brunner. “It was eerie being in the manufacturing facility during the shutdown and experiencing it being so quiet; we don’t like a quiet manufacturing floor. But it gave us the opportunity to review spacing and process improvements, which we were able to implement before our Team’s return. It’s really rewarding to see how excited everyone has been to get back to crafting the rods our anglers rely on… Premier, Legend Glass, the new Legend Xtremes and others. There’s a renewed sense of urgency and attention to detail… the pride has been amplified.”
Laura Olsen agrees. “Things have been extremely busy, catching up with demand,” says Olsen, who points out the pandemic has helped to raise awareness about the need for more domestic production of all kinds of goods. “We need more USA products. I take a lot of pride in what I do helping to put St. Croix Rods in the hands of passionate anglers. I’ve heard a lot of people hollering that there aren’t enough rods in the warehouse, so we’re going to be staying busy. A lot of people are going to buy more USA products after this, because they realize we can’t rely on other countries to make what we need to support not only our safety, but our regular lives and livelihoods. We’re going to continue to make sure that anglers enjoy their fishing!”
St. Croix’s mission is to give anglers the upper hand in any situation. It’s a promise the company remains well-positioned to deliver on. “This is a great time to be an angler fishing St. Croix Rods, and the best days are just around the corner,” says St. Croix Director of Marketing, Jesse Simpkins. “This team is constantly getting better in working with materials, supporting our dealers, and listening to our anglers. Anyone who thinks St. Croix has reached its peak is mistaken, and we’re going to continue to prove that with the kinds of innovations and product introductions that make big differences for anglers.”
The great reveal begins next month, with the makers of the Best Rods on Earth® from the tiny town of Park Falls poised to unveil a record number of all-new and reengineered rod series for 2021 at the first-ever virtual ICAST show. The fishing world will be watching, and – no doubt – the grateful hearts of every St. Croix employee will be swollen with pride.