Bustos visits Galena to discuss business succession planning bill

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., puts lids on jars of roasted corn salsa at Galena Canning Co. in Galena, Ill., on Monday. Bustos also promoted federal legislation to help businesses’ succession planning. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY

GALENA, Ill. — U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos has long been a fan of the Galena Canning Company, but when she spent some time working in the company’s production kitchen on Monday, her love of the business was only strengthened.

Standing between a vat of boiling salsa and a table filled with hundreds of empty jars, Bustos learned that the company’s products are created in small batches, hand-poured, hand-labeled and sealed and packaged individually. For a short time, Bustos herself helped twist on the lids of some filled salsa jars.

“It’s all done by hand,” she said. “To actually see that in action is one of the coolest things I have seen.”

However, Bustos’ visit wasn’t organized to simply admire the local Galena business. She said she also wanted to visit with the company’s owner as a way to promote proposed federal legislation that would incentivize and assist businesses in developing a succession plan, something that the Galena Canning Company was sorely without in the past year.

“Anything that can help people not go through what we went through is great in my opinion,” said Max Puidak, owner of the Galena Canning Company. “There were months where me and my mom didn’t know what was going to happen, how our lives were going to change.”

Last year, Max Puidak, 27, took over ownership of the family business, after his father, Ivo Puidak, who founded the Galena Canning Company in the early 1990s, died at the age of 61.

Ivo’s death came at an inopportune time for the family and the company. Plans were nearly complete to sell the business, but Ivo’s death, along with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic slashing profits, scuttled the sale, leaving Max and his mother with a company that neither of them wanted and were ready to hand off to someone else.

Max, who was living in New York City working for a start-up company, said he had no intentions of taking over the family business from his father, who had wanted his son to pursue a different career. But when plans to sell the company fell through, Max knew he was the only one who could keep his father’s legacy alive.

“I came home and saw the writing on the wall,” Max said. “I was going to have to take on the business, or it could potentially go down to zero and just fail and collapse.”

Today, the Galena Canning Company’s future looks bright again. Max has shifted into his ownership role well and has already taken initiatives to move the company forward with improved branding.

Despite this, Max said he still wishes his father would have developed a succession plan for the company. Even after being diagnosed with cancer in 2017, Ivo Puidak never constructed a roadmap for what to do with the company when he was gone.

“It was something that he built up all his life, and he never wanted to think about letting it go, even if it was in the best interest of his family,” Max said. “It’s a tough conversation to have, but having a plan can help your family avoid a lot of hardships after the fact.”

Bustos said the Small Business Succession Planning Act, introduced to the House of Representatives in February, wasn’t created in response to the troubles faced by the Galena Canning Company, but she believes its passage will help to ensure that other family businesses aren’t met with the same fate.

If passed, the bill would direct the U.S. Small Business Administration to adopt policies that would assist businesses in developing succession plans, along with creating tax incentives for businesses that create and execute their own succession plans.

“We learned it was a real problem for a lot of family-owned businesses that they didn’t know the importance of succession planning,” Bustos said. “We introduced a bill where the Small Business Administration would help families and businesses understand the importance of succession planning.”