HARTLAND — A Kentucky-based cattle hide processor, which bills itself as the world’s largest, has placed a $6.5 million bid for this town’s largest employer, Prime Tanning, and could become its new owner by week’s end.

If that happens, the owners of Tasman Industries, Inc., of Louisville, Ky., pledged Tuesday to keep the town’s landmark tannery operating and its work force intact.

The potential sale comes two-and-a-half months after the tannery filed for federal bankruptcy protection.

Paul Larochelle, president of Prime Tanning, said Tuesday the sale could close by the end of this week, but that some details still need to be worked out.

“The buyer will have to be duly satisfied,” Larochelle said.

According to the Tasman Industries’ website, the company has hide-processing facilities in Des Moines, Iowa; Omaha, Neb.; Louisville, Ky.; Amarillo and Fort Worth, Texas; as well as the countries of Mexico, China and Taiwan.

A director of the company, Aaron M. Tasman, described Tasman Industries as a “family business” that will celebrate its 64th anniversary this Thursday. The company has more than 300 employees and is managed by other Tasman family members, he said in a phone interview from the company’s headquarters in Louisville.

Tasman’s core business is processing cattle hides in its 12 processing facilities, which produce 140,000 hides per week, he said.

“We continue to operate our company with the same values and company culture as it was 60 years ago,” he said, “even as we have grown to become the biggest processor of cattle hides in the world.”

Tasman said the company also owns a tannery in Hartford, Wis., and it aims to “keep more jobs in the U.S.” amid changing global markets.

His father, company President Norman Tasman, said he also expects details of the Prime Tanning deal to become clearer by the end of the week.

“Our intention is to produce fine leather and put a name back on the map as a thriving operation,” Norman Tasman said.

Asked whether the potential sale would affect the tannery’s work force, Tasman said, “Our company has been around 64 years; we’re a family business and we have family values and we want to do what’s right for the community and the workforce that’s there, as well as make beautiful leather.”

Prime Tanning, which has had about 180 employees in Hartland, announced on Nov. 16, 2010, it had filed for bankruptcy protection. It was the third time the tannery had filed for bankruptcy in the last decade.

Through Chapter 11 protection, the company has sought to revive itself through a court-approved reorganization plan, freeing it from the threat of creditor’s lawsuits while restructuring its finances.

In its statement announcing the bankruptcy filing, Prime Tanning blamed its financial woes on “legacy liabilities” from unprofitable operations at a now-closed facility in Berwick and at a now-sold operation in Missouri.

It also pointed to pending litigation in Missouri, where residents are suing Prime Tanning for allegedly selling fertilizer containing a cancer-causing chemical to farmers.

To remain operating during the bankruptcy proceedings, the tannery received court-approved lifelines: a $550,000 loan from the Maine Rural Development Authority and a $4 million credit line through the firm Porter Capital.

In its bankruptcy filing, Prime Tanning names dozens of creditors and lists its liabilities totaling up to $10 million.

The town of Hartland is owed more than $300,000 in late tax payments and other debts by the leather-making company. Nathan J. Martell, a lawyer with the Bangor firm Eaton Peabody, is representing the town of Hartland during the bankruptcy proceedings.

Through bankruptcy, Tasman Industries emerged as what’s known as a stalking-horse bidder.

Under that arrangement, a bankrupt company’s assets are available to a pool of bidders, and the stalking horse is selected to make the initial bid. The stalking-horse bidder sets the bar for a purchase price, thereby protecting against low bids for the company’s assets.

Scott Monroe — 861-9239
[email protected]