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WATER VALLEY – The 50-year history of the county’s largest employer was celebrated last Thursday as company officials at Solero Technologies alongside current and former plant employees joined city, county and state officials to mark the milestone.
Plant manager Tom Tkach traced the rich history of the plant, starting in 1972 when distributors manufactured at the site were sold to Ford and International Harvester. The plant manufactured carburetors, throttle body fuel injectors and later transmission solenoids and control modules that evolved into the advanced products currently produced at the site.
Tkach noted that plant was first operated by Holley Carburetor and had a workforce of 500 people by the end of 1973. By 1981, the company’s heyday, Holley Carburetor employed an all-time high of 1,700 people. BorgWarner acquired the facility in 1996, and in 2021 Atar Capital completed the carve-out acquisition of the business that was renamed Solero Technologies.
Solero Technologies CEO Dr. Donald James shared the real success of the plant through the succession of owners is the generational talent. James added that he had met with many employees since joining Solero in March.
“I hear the same stories, the same continuity. This plant has generational talent that came through year after year. I love hearing the stories, ‘my sister worked here,’ or ‘my dad worked here,’” James told the crowd. “We want to keep that tradition going.”
As CEO, James added that his job is to ensure the next 50 years, adding that vision is shared by his management team and Atar Capital, the ownership group.
“Our vision is quite clear. We want to be a one billion dollar company that provides technologies that puts solutions in motion. That is our vision, one billion with a B. That will come true. We are guided by our values, our values of integrity, respect, collaboration, empowerment and respect,” the CEO continued
Looking To The Future
Both James and Atar Capital founder Cyrus Nikou noted that the strong history of innovation at the plant will help with the transition for the future. Atar Capital purchased the plant from BorgWarner in January as part of BorgWarner’s global shift away from supplying parts for internal combustion engines as they move to electric vehicles components.
“You hear in the news the world is changing. That is true in the automotive industry,” James told the crowd. The company CEO added that change will come slow, citing an estimated five percent of the vehicles on the road now are electric.
“In the next 10 to 12 years, that percentage will be around 30 to 35 percent,” James added. “What are we doing about that? First of all, we are looking at developments now on solenoid technologies that have mechanisms to cool electric motors and batteries, our e-valve. We are looking at product development to take solenoids to active suspension. Remember, it doesn’t matter if you have internal combustion or an electric vehicle, every vehicle has suspension,” the CEO added.
James also said the company has feedback from commercial truck customers to work on a solenoid that works with natural gas and hydrogen fuel.
Nikou added that during Atar Capital’s research before the purchase, his team weighed decades of proven innovation as a strong selling point as they look to the future. He cited a strong management team that continues to focus on supplying OEM parts for internal combustion engines in the short-term while transitioning as a supplier for electric vehicles.
Safety and Quality
Thursday’s celebration included the presentation of the CEO 2022 Safety Excellence Award to Solero employees after the plant logged two million work hours without a recordable work incident. James stressed to the crowd that the success of the plant, both in quality and safety, helps drive the future.
“The basis of how we will be successful starts with safety and quality. Before you can perform decent quality, you want to feel safe. You want to have a safe working environment and you want to have a plant that operates in a safe manner.
“Obviously it starts with you folks and doing what you do best. Two million hours is something that is unheard of to me.
We acquire all sorts of industrial companies, millions of square feet in factories all across the country. I can tell you, we don’t have two million hours anywhere else. This is remarkable,” James added.
Nikou shared the CEO’s sentiment.
“Obviously it starts with you folks and doing what you do best. Two million hours is something that is unheard of to me. We acquire all sorts of industrial companies, millions of square feet in factories all across the country. I can tell you, we don’t have two million hours anywhere else. This is remarkable,” Nikou said.
As part of plant tradition to celebrate the coveted safety award, officials at Solero Technologies presented two donations to local non-profits as part of the safety excellence award – $5,000 to Compassion Ministries and $5,000 to This Is Noteworthy (tin). Nikou also shared that Atar Capital will match the donations for a total of $10,000 to each non-profit.
The final recognition was the presentation of the annual Shirley Johnson Safety Award, created to commemorate Johnson’s outstanding safety and health contributions to the Water Valley plant for over two decades. Ella Booker, a 49-year employee at the plant, was the recipient.
“I can’t be more proud of you all as a company,” Nikou told the employees as the ceremony ended.