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Tom Huntington, CEO

Sale of pump-maker OK'd

WaterFurnace expects robust growth, more local jobs

WaterFurnace Renewable Energy Inc. shareholders have overwhelmingly approved the local employer's sale to a Swedish company, WaterFurnace officials announced Monday.

The growth plan calls for doubling the renewable energy company's business in North America, President and CEO Tom Huntington told The Journal Gazette on Monday.

That could translate to 100 to 150 new jobs in the next five years, he said. The positions will be added in Fort Wayne and Goshen, home of WaterFurnace's May 2014 acquisition, Chillit Chillers.

WaterFurnace now employs about 270. Workforce growth in the company's Australian operation and joint venture in China will be in addition to that new jobs estimate, Huntington said.

“We see nothing but a great future for both companies,” he said.

NIBE Industrier AB has offered about $350 million cash for all outstanding WaterFurnace shares, a 27 percent premium at the time the bargain was struck in June.

Sharesholders, who met Monday in Fort Wayne, OK'd the deal with more than 99 percent in favor of the sale. The next step is requesting permission from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. The application will be considered Thursday. Officials expect that approval to be granted Monday.

Based in Fort Wayne but traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange, WaterFurnace will continue to operate as a separate entity led by the company's current executives.

Huntington is staying on, and no job cuts are planned, he said. In fact, company officials attended a job fair Monday in an attempt to fill several open positions.

WaterFurnace, which makes geothermal heat pumps, reported that about 70 percent of last year's $119 million in sales was to the residential market. The company, headquartered at 9000 Conservation Way, also sells to the commercial and institutional markets.

NIBE, which sells heat pumps in Europe and Asia, wants to expand its reach into North America and Australia – WaterFurnace ter­ritory. NIBE's annual sales are more than 10 times those of WaterFurnace.

Being under the NIBE umbrella will allow WaterFurnace to negotiate better prices with suppliers and call on more technical knowledge, Huntington said.

It will also allow WaterFurnace to explore whether to launch production of solar-powered systems like those already made by NIBE. Even if the local operation doesn't produce the systems, WaterFurnace's sales network can market the items made in Europe, he said.

More than 1 million geothermal heat pumps are now used in the U.S., with about 50,000 more added each year, according to WaterFurnace.