Monofrax Eyes Growth Under New Ownership

Stability and growth are two things Monofrax LLC is eagerly anticipating for 2017 under new, private ownership.

Eight months after its purchase by Munich, Germany-based firm Callista Private Equity in June, the Falconer plant is regrowing its business opportunities through the establishment of partnerships with customers both new and old, and in expanding its workforce by 30 employees.

“Since we were sold in June, we’ve reorganized and reconnected with some of our older customers,” said Bill Andrews, president and general manager.

“We’ve also changed our management team and now we’re very customer focused, which gave us some business opportunities we haven’t had for a while.

Additionally, over the past 4-6 weeks we’ve hired about 12-15 people and are looking to hire another 15-20. As we continue to grow, we expect that number to increase.”

Andrews said Monofrax is expecting modest growth for 2017 — between $4 and $6 million, or 15-20 percent — which he said is a healthy amount considering the uncertainty it faced in early 2016 before it was determined that Monofrax’s former parent company, RHI-AG in Austria, would sell the plant.

Gary Sobilo, Monofrax’ human resources manager, said Monofrax currently employs 162 staff members and is looking to expand by 25 manufacturing and five administrative positions over the next two months.

“We’re interviewing and hiring electricians and maintenance workers; mold makers, which are like skilled carpenters; and also furnace, crane and forklift operators. We’re also looking at applications engineers, draftsmen, and process engineers,” Sobilo said. “The turnaround also involves our union workforce, so we have a renewed collaborative rapport with both our unions: the International Association of Machinists and the National Conference of Firemen and Oilers. We meet regularly and work through issues; working together to facilitate the growth of the business.”

Monofrax, which has been around for more than 80 years, is the sole and only supplier approved by the U.S. Department of Energy for the production of the “K-3” refractory used for the vitrification of nuclear waste. It is a leading producer of fused cast refractory materials, mainly used within the construction of furnaces for glass manufacturing and other industries.

Andrews said, thanks to the new ownership group, the plant was fortunate to retain a majority of its workforce, which facilitated the fast turnaround and allowed the plant to make some inroad with regard to both old and new accounts.

Additionally, he said the plant is looking at acquiring new equipment that would permit the exploration of new applications for the refractories. This is being achieved through partnerships it has established with Empire State Development, Dream It Do It Western New York and the Chautauqua Region Economic Development Corporation.

Justin Hanft, director of the Chautauqua County Education Coalition, offered insight to these relationships and the assistance Dream It Do It Western New York, the Manufacturers Association of the Southern Tier (MAST) and the Chautauqua County Education Coalition (CCEC) have provided to Monofrax.

“(Monofrax) partners with Dream It Do It and MAST to help address its future workforce needs by introducing students and educators to their manufacturing processes through plant tours. Monofrax has collaborated with MAST to provide health insurance solutions to help manage costs,” he said. “Monofrax employee Chuck Dispenza has provided industry expertise in workshops with the CCEC to analyze Jamestown Community College’s Industrial Equipment Technology Curricula, along with other regional employers to make sure it aligns with today’s industry needs. This support has been vital to the CCEC as it works to mobilize the county to meet this immediate occupational demand for skilled Industrial Maintenance Technicians.”

This upward trend is in line with the post-transaction aims of Callista Private Equity, which said it would plan to concentrate on the carve-out from RHI-AG and on trimming Monofrax for standalone capabilities.

“We are very proud of our first portfolio company in the U.S. and will now concentrate on the carve-out from the seller as well as on the restructuring of the business in order to get Monofrax back to its former success. With this transaction, Callista Private Equity underlines its international approach and will support Monofrax with internationally experienced turnaround and carve-out specialists,” said Olaf Meier, chief executive officer of Callista Private Equity.

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