New owners see bright future at Warner Electric

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Warner Electric, with offices on Gardner Street in South Beloit, is under new ownership.

Warner Electric, one of the Beloit area's oldest and proudest manufacturing brand names, has become part of Altra Industrial Motion, based in Boston.

Warner's former parent company, Colfax Power Transmission Group, was acquired in December by Genstar Capital of San Francisco, a private equity investment firm. Genstar previously had acquired Kilian Manufacturing Corporation, which was merged along with Colfax PT to form the Altra group.

The acquisition includes Warner Electric's facilities on Gardner Street in South Beloit, but not the mothballed Roscoe plant, which remains under the ownership of another Colfax entity. Altra also takes over Warner Electric facilities in Indiana, France and various sales and marketing operations overseas.

The South Beloit plant currently employs 114 members within the steelworkers' bargaining unit, along with about 70 support staff. Altra officials say a three-year contract has been worked out with the union.

Michael L. Hurt, chief executive officer of Altra, said, "We're excited about the whole portfolio of businesses we bought," which includes companies with combined revenues of nearly $340 million annually.

Genstar acquired Colfax Power Transmissions and Kilian Manufacturing for a purchase price of approximately $200 million, according to a company Web site. Altra Industrial Motion issued $165 million in senior secured notes as part of financing for the acquisition, with the balance coming from Genstar, its affiliates and the Altra management team.

Hurt said Altra is bullish on Warner Electric's future.

"Warner Electric has very strong brand equity in the marketplace," he said, adding "we think it's one of the brands that has international opportunities."

The deal has a link to Warner Electric's past, with Frank Bauchiero - formerly Warner's top executive and a former Beloit resident - serving Genstar as a member of its Strategic Advisory Committee. Bauchiero also serves on the Altra board of directors.

The Altra group, Hurt said, is a strong manufacturer with all products directed toward the industrial power transmission market. Warner's electric brakes and clutches product line "has very strong brand equity in the marketplace," he said, adding that Warner "has a good global foundation and we want to build on that."

The new owner does not expect immediate changes in employment levels.

"We anticipate stable employment and potential growth," Hurt said, adding there could be seasonal fluctuations based on demand.

Ultimate employment decisions, he said, will depend on market conditions and the volume of product needed to meet demand.

Altra currently is consolidating business systems, with considerable investment in the South Beloit property, to update links to home-office management.

Hurt stressed that Altra intends to be a good corporate citizen.

"We try to do the right thing in the communities we're involved in," he said.

A company press release describes the Colfax acquisition as providing Altra with power transmission products with applications in the turf and garden, food and beverage, material handling, printing, paper and packaging, specialty machinery industries and other industrial markets. The Kilian side of the acquisition produces machined-race bearings, including ball and roller bearings and assemblies for industrial and automotive uses.

Hurt said he visited the South Beloit property earlier, as part of the buyer's due diligence process. He plans to return for a plant visit in about a month.

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