Less than a year after Selma’s Sona Precision Forge plant closed, new blood will restart the assembly line.
Selma Precision Technologies, the local name and first American plant for Indian manufacturer the Warm Group, plans to reopen the plant by June with 38 workers and eventually return the site to its former glory.
Vinay Upadhyay, director of business strategies and growth for Selma Precision Technlogies, said the Warm Group was initially interested in buying bankrupt Sona’s equipment at auction and shipping it back to India. Instead, it bought the property.
The company paid $700,000 for two parcels late last year, and Upadhyay said in all the company has spent $6.5 million on the land and buildings and getting the plant back in shape. He said the company will spend another $3 to $4 million over the next two years.
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“We had been planning to set up another plant in India, but we had also been in the region and considered setting up a footprint in North America,” Upadhyay said. “We met with the trustee (of the Sona land) planning to probably look at the equipment and ship it back to India. The trustee told us as a foreign company we may have a hard time (winning at auction), but said it’s a good deal, a good bargain and asked why don’t you think of reviving the plant. We thought it might be a good opportunity and a win-win for our company.”
Upadhyay said Selma Precision will manufacture the delicate iron parts in car transmissions, gear boxes and differentials. It will also handle some defense contracts.
The auto-parts work is similar to what Sona did in Selma, and Upadhyay said the work will tie into Warm’s manufacturing in India, with some parts made on both sides of the earth to end up in the same machines.
The Warm Group has three plants in India and employs around 1,600 people, Upadhyay said, all working in some aspect in forging high-tech products.
Locally the plant will start with 38 workers, some coming from India, but many from what Upadhyay called a “core team” who had worked for Sona and lost their jobs. Over time, he expects the plant will return to a workforce of around 165 at its projected peak, with most coming from the Selma area, Upadhyay said.
“The core team has been at the plant for about 25 years and are very knowledgeable and know what they’re doing,” he said. “It’s important for us to get the act at this plant together; there have been kind of a lot of hurdles along the way.”
Upadhyay said one of the challenges of reopening will be earning back old Sona clients affected by the plant’s closing.
“We have to win the trust back of the old customer base,” he said. “It won’t be easy with the way Sona exited.”
Upadhyay said much of the work in preparing the plant is upgrading safety standards, cleanliness and infrastructure. Helping with the work will be $750,000 from the state’s Rural Infrastructure Authority, which offers grants to projects that add jobs, especially in the state’s 80 poorest counties. The money will help get the 100,000-square-foot building back in working order.
Johnston County could also chip in an estimated $45,000 a year in tax relief through its standard economic-development incentive package.
Economic-development director Chris Johnson said it’s a great thing for Selma and Johnston County to see the plant going back to work. “They’ve got high hopes of ramping up to full production speed,” he said.
Selma Precision’s opening offers a manufacturing win for the Interstate 95 corridor, which has watched as most of the good news has come from the western end of the county.
Manufacturing jobs, Johnson said, tend to offer higher wages for work that doesn’t require overly specialized training. The I-95 corridor has been the subject of most of the inquiries Johnson has received lately, with two specifically looking to locate within 50 miles of the planned CSX hub in Rocky Mount. Johnson said that in the coming years, the northern part of the county, such as Kenly and Micro, might become more sought after by companies.
“We’ve been extremely busy; there’s a lot of activity,” Johnson said.
As for Selma Precision Technologies, Upadhyay said the company is excited to get started. “This is a good experience for us and a learning experience in being the first time we step foot on foreign soil as a company,” he said.
Johnston won two of the 22 rural development grants announced by the state last week, with a Benson company claiming the other. Metallum Recycling will create 25 jobs when it moves into a vacant 67,000-square-foot building in town. The state awarded the project $125,000, which will join $241,426 the company is investing itself.