Waupaca says Etowah plant has big role with new company

Waupaca says Etowah plant has big role with new company

July 4th, 2012 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

People work at the Waupaca plant in Etowah, Tenn., in 2004.

People work at the Waupaca plant in Etowah,...

The new owners of Waupaca Foundry Inc., are looking to expand their castings business overseas even as they complete a $30 million upgrade of Waupaca's Etowah, Tenn., plant, which was idled two years ago amid the automotive slump.

A New York private equity group, KPS Capital Partners LP, completed the purchase of Waupaca this week from the German-based ThyssenKrupp AG.

Waupaca CEO Gary Gigante said the new owners "will give us the resources to reinvest in our organization to serve the anticipated market growth" and could help the company build facilities outside of the United States for the first time.

Waupaca is the largest independent iron foundry company in the world and operates a half dozen foundries, including a 270,00-square-foot foundry built in Etowah in 2001. The mill was idled in January 2010 when Waupaca production fell in half during the recession compared with the peak years of 2005 and 2006.

Last year, Waupaca reactivated the Etowah plant and is in the process of adding ductile iron, in addition to its gray iron production.

"We're operating at about 50 percent of capacity at that plant today with about 300 employees, but we have business committed to use 100 percent of the plant once we get the parts verification and sample approvals," Gigante said. "When we are full employment by April 2013, we should be at 475 to 500 employees (in Etowah)."

McMinn County has agreed to forego some of the property tax collections on the new investment to help spur investment in the plant.

"They are modernizing the plant to give it more flexibility and competitiveness for the future, so hopefully in the next downturn the plant will be more viable in the casting industry," McMinn County Mayor John Gentry said. "It's exciting to have Waupaca back."

Founded in 1955 and based in Waupaca, Wisc., the company has about 3,500 employees and sales of more than $1.5 billion a year. Waupaca operates three foundries in Waupaca, Wisc., and others in Marinette, Wisc., Tell City, Ind., and Etowah, Tenn.

Financial terms of the sale were not disclosed.