•  Officials signed the paperwork on the sale of Leader Evaporator Co. to H2O Innovation at a ceremony at the company plant in Swanton, Vt. on Thursday, June 30.

Done deal: H2O Innovation closes on Leader sale

H2O to invest in $1 million tubing extruder for Swanton plant


SWANTON, Vt.—The installation of a new $1 million state-of-the-art tubing extruder will be the first order of business following the H2O Innovation buyout of Leader Evaporator Co., a deal that closed on Thursday night during a ceremony at the Leader plant in Swanton.

Paperwork was signed and champagne was flowing, as H2O became the new owners of the Leader Evaporator Co., which was founded in 1888 and reincorporated by a handful of prominent sugarmaking families as exclusive stockholders in 1964.

Meanwhile, H2O Innovation is a publicly traded company from Quebec City, Que. with a $250 million market capitalization with ambitions to significantly grow the maple side of its water technologies business.  

Rock Gaulin will run the operation in the U.S., officials said. Heading up the sales force in Swanton for the new H2O Innovation/Leader hybrid will be Kyle Lothian. 

The company said it will be working out on a “case by case basis" any overlap between the more than 100 stores in the respective dealer networks that are now falling under the same umbrella, officials said on Thursday.

Company sales director Matthieu Fortier said the extruder will be the biggest new change.  It will be installed at the Swanton location in August and will be outfitted with a cutting-edge computer technology that will ensure that all tubing will have a consistent inner diameter.

“The I.D. will always on its mark,” he said.

Gaulin said the company has double the amount of equipment order backlog compared to last year and the new manufacturing capacity from the sale will help ensure that all orders are filled in time for the 2023 season, he said.

“We will have triple overall capacity as a company,” Gaulin said.

Officials said the name of Leader will remain on all such branded equipment, and H2O equipment will also be branded the same.

“There is a lot of emotion to the ending of a company,” said Mary Fogle Douglass of Sugar Bush Supplies of Mason, Mich., who served as Leader’s chairwoman of the board and whose father, George Fogle was one of the original founders of the 1964 iteration of the company.

“I think this is the right thing for Leader at the right time,” Douglass said on Thursday.

The price of the sale was undisclosed.  There were 15 stockholders of Leader’s 10,000 outstanding shares. 

Leader had fallen into financial struggle over the past several years, officials said, and a new president, Jeff Smith was brought in to turn around the company finances and help get the company into strong position for a sale.

Part of that effort was selling the company’s manufacturing plant in Swanton to the Franklin County Industrial Development Corp. for $2.6 million in December.  

The company has since been leasing the plant facility back from the development corp for a 10 year term, according to the FCIDC executive director Tim Smith, who was on hand on Thursday.

The company also received a $1,000,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) though the town of Swanton in 2020 to help retain the nearly 60 jobs in the Leader plant there.

Jeff Smith said he will be staying on with Leader during the transition until Sept. 2 and then resigning.

Officials said the company is looking to hire more employees for the plant, especially welders.