Chicago firm to buy Pine Bluff transformer maker Central Moloney

Chris Hart, chief executive officer of Central Moloney Inc., poses outside the company's Pine Bluff headquarters in this Jan. 12, 2022 file photo. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)
Chris Hart, chief executive officer of Central Moloney Inc., poses outside the company's Pine Bluff headquarters in this Jan. 12, 2022 file photo. (Pine Bluff Commercial/I.C. Murrell)

Transformer manufacturer Central Moloney Inc. of Pine Bluff will be sold to a Chicago-based private equity firm, according to Central Moloney's chief executive officer.

CEO Chris Hart said Friday that Wind Point Partners plans to complete the sale of the transformer manufacturer this month. He added that the sale, which Central Moloney began pursuing 11 months ago, is necessary for the company to free up capital space in order to expand.

“The point is not to get rid of the roots we’ve established, but to grow the branches,” Hart said. He declined to specify the actual value of the company because the sale process is ongoing.

“This won’t look anything different from what Central Moloney is today,” Hart said. “Our headquarters will still be at 2400 West Sixth [Avenue] in Pine Bluff, Ark. We look to bring in a new generation of talent to facilitate the growth. They [Wind Point] will surround me with people who are way smarter than I am.”

Central Moloney was also pursuing a company to take full ownership, and Hart said that Wind Point is a group that possesses “a ton” of market insight.

“I hate giving away market share, but we had to look at another source of revenue to free up the revenue we had,” Hart said.

Wind Point officials would not be available for comment until the sale is completed, Hart said.

Central Moloney has focused on growth in recent years. In July, the company announced it would build a 302,000-square foot facility at the Shoal River Ranch Gigasite in Crestview, Fla., to reach out to more qualified workers. The investment was estimated at $50 million, and the company planned 350 higher-wage jobs. 

Central Moloney also invested $20 million into a 140,000-square foot facility at Venture Crossing Enterprise Center in Panama City Beach, Fla., where single-phase, pole-mounted transformers are made.

Despite the upcoming sale to a Chicago firm, Hart said Central Moloney will stay headquartered in Pine Bluff, and he will still live in Pine Bluff. Groundbreaking is scheduled for either late this year or early next year with a projected opening date in either 2026 or 2027.

Central Moloney has been a wholly employee stock-ownership plan corporation since 1998, meaning that about 170 shareholders are either still employed by Central Moloney or are non-active participants. Those shareholders still have ballots and disclosure agreements at the moment, Hart said.

While the parameters of the sale have been set, Hart added, they remain confidential.

The company was established in Pine Bluff in 1949 as Larkin Lectro Products Co., then was renamed Central Transformer Corp. in 1952 as it devoted itself to manufacturing distribution transformers, according to the company's online biography.

Central Transformer Corp. acquired Moloney Transformer Corp. of St. Louis in 1965, then it was purchased by Colt Industries in 1968, taking on the name Central Moloney Transformer Division. In 1990, Colt Industries announced plans to become Coltec Industries, focusing on aerospace, automotive and industrial products, according to The New York Times. Senior management at Coltec concluded that Pine Bluff's Central Moloney, while profitable, didn't fit in with the rest of the company, so they purchased the division in January 1994 and renamed it Central Moloney Inc.

Hart declined to specify what exactly led to the exploration of the sale, but he said easing out of an employee stock-ownership plan without a changing of the hands is virtually impossible. The plans tend not to last for their intended length of time, he said.

The firm was selected through a search process facilitated by Stephens Inc. of Little Rock.

Central Moloney is also touting a $150,000 donation to the Pine Bluff Police Department, as well as an establishment of welding and workforce education programs at Watson Chapel and Pine Bluff high schools.

“We’re still pumping thousands of dollars into local charities,” Hart said. “We’re just waiting on something or somebody to step up to the plate with us.”

This story has been updated. It was originally published at 5:52 p.m.

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