W.A. Brown and Son is now under full ownership of Southern Stainless Equipment of Waynesboro, Va., completing a partnership that allowed the century-old Salisbury company to reopen early this year.

W.A. Brown, which specializes in walk-in coolers and freezers, resumed operations in January. Since then, its workforce has grown to 41 and development of national sales has expanded.

“We are here and intend to grow,” said Bob Rouse, CEO of Clark Mfg., parent company of Southern Stainless Equipment, which makes industrial restaurant equipment.

“We will not change the name or the personnel, and we will continue to grow and be a vital part of the community,” Rouse said, adding that W.A. Brown operations and employees will remain in Salisbury at the current plant, located at 209 Long Meadow Drive.

When it shut down in November 2009, W.A. Brown laid off 100 employees, and those employees are the first being asked to return as sales grow, said Jake Werner, chief operating officer of W.A. Brown.

“We want to emphasize our sense of community responsibility,” Werner said. “We are looking forward to a successful growth process. We already have great momentum, both in terms of morale and sales.”

Robert Van Geons, executive director of Rowan Works Economic Development, heralded W.A. Brown as having “an unparalleled legacy” as a premier manufacturer in Rowan County and said he was confident the company would continue to grow. “Having met with the current ownership and worked with them over the last few months, it is obvious that their intentions are to invigorate and expand the quality reputation and operations of the company,” Van Geons said.

When Rouse learned of the W.A. Brown closing, he immediately envisioned a marriage between the Salisbury company and Southern Stainless. “I was looking for someone who knew walk-in coolers better than my company did,” Rouse said. “Part of my success has come from being an innovator, always searching for ways to do things better.”

After 27 years working in the capacitor division of General Electric, Rouse bought Clark in 1996 and dropped its custom cabinet business in favor of expanding the metals manufacturing side. He fostered a successful partnership with an upstart company, making frames for patented military shelters the company produced. Although that company has changed hands several times over the years, Clark still provides the aluminum frames for the high performance shelters used as military field hospitals and command centers.