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March 16, 2016
Connecticut investment firm buys Nichols Portland, citing innovative culture

The gear and pump maker is Portland’s sixth-largest employer and has operated in the city since 1968.

By Edward D. Murphy, Staff Writer
Portland Press Herald

A Portland company that supplies gears primarily used in engine pumps – its parts are found in all new Harley-Davidson motorcycles – has been sold to a Connecticut investment firm.

The terms of the sale of Nichols Portland, which was a division of Parker Hannifin Corp., weren’t disclosed. The new owner is Altus Capital Partners, along with investments from the management team of Nichols Portland.

W.H. Nichols was founded in Massachusetts in 1904 and renamed Nichols Portland when it moved to Maine in 1968. It employs 373 people at its Congress Street plant, making it Portland’s sixth-largest private employer and one of a dwindling number of manufacturing firms in Maine.

The company makes gears for pumps in car, motorcycle and diesel engines, including oil, fuel and transmission fluid pumps, said Rick Izor, who was general manager of the company and will now be president of the firm, which will retain its name. The gears are sold to the pump makers, Izor said, and a majority end up in General Motors, Ford and Chrysler cars.

Izor said the company will maintain its current level of employees and likely will grow in the next few months as it receives new equipment that will help it expand its product line.

Izor said Nichols Portland uses a powder metal manufacturing process. The metal powder is formed into a specific shape and the part is then fired in a furnace to give it strength. The process results in a strong steel part that also meets precise specifications, Izor said.

The company also makes gears for a “smart” electronic pump that’s used as a fuel pump in diesel engines for “off-highway” vehicles, such as tractors and heavy construction equipment. John Deere is a major customer for those pumps, he said.

It also manufactures gerotors, a part used to make pumps smaller, lighter and more efficient.

Izor said Altus Capital is a good fit for Nichols Portland because it invests in medium-size manufacturing companies, while Parker Hannifin’s other divisions consisted largely of light manufacturing operations. He also said that Altus Capital, which is based in Wilton, Connecticut, has other companies in the automotive field. The firm typically invests in profitable manufacturing companies in the United States that have proprietary technologies, processes and products, according to a statement from Altus Capital announcing the purchase Thursday.

In addition to making and selling industrial gears and pumps, Nichols Portland also designs and engineers solutions to meet customers’ specifications. It was the company’s record of innovation within this industrial market that attracted Altus Capital.

“We recognize and value management’s depth of capabilities along with the company’s exceptional technological advancements, which has earned Nichols Portland its industry leadership position,” Russell Greenberg, managing partner of Altus Capital, said in the statement Thursday.

Altus and the management of Nichols Portland believe that demand for smart pump and advanced variable gears will grow based upon the products’ ability to offer increased fuel and motor efficiency.

Izor declined to offer financial details about Nichols Portland, but said Altus Capital typically invests in companies with annual revenues of $50 million to $55 million, and Nichols Portland is in that general range.

Altus Capital owns about 20 manufacturing companies, including Talon Industries, a printer and ink company, and GED Integrated Solutions, an insulating glass and vinyl window fabricator, both acquired in 2015.