ENGINEERING company WEC Group Ltd has been bought in a multi-million pound deal by a group of Anglo-American investors.

The Darwen-based company, which employs 900 people, with 400 based in the town and neighbouring Blackburn, had a turnover in 2016 of £27.7million.

The move has been given a cautious welcome by local politicians who hope it will produce investment and jobs in the borough and open up new export markets in the USA.

WEC management issued a statement to workers after the deal, saying: “WEC Group, MTL Advanced and associated companies have been acquired by a private company controlled by a small Anglo-American group of investors.

“This group has been investing in UK businesses since 1972, and looks forward to moving the acquired businesses forward both in the UK and export targets.”

Commercial director Wayne Wild said yesterday: “The company continues all its operations as normal across the UK.”

WEC Group has its headquarters in Britannia House, Junction Street, Darwen.

Founded 35 years ago in a Darwen shed by owner and managing director Steve Hartley, the firm now has 15 divisions in Lancashire, Merseyside, Scotland, Yorkshire and the West Midlands.

Rossendale and Darwen MP and Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry said: “This is a highly advanced and very successful company.

“Hopefully this development will mean investment and new markets for the firm and jobs for Darwen.”

Miranda Barker, chief executive of the East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “This will have been a very substantial deal.

“They have been a very successful business for East Lancashire with whom we work closely in partnership.

“Hopefully it is good news in terms of investment and opening up export markets.”

Cllr Phil Riley, Blackburn with Darwen Council’s regeneration boss, said: “WEC is a very successful company and it comes as no surprise that it has attracted interest from major investors. I hope that this means investment in the company and continued support for the Darwen operation.”

The firm’s 15 divisions include WEC Laser, WEC Powder Coating, WEC Rail, WEC Aerospace and WEC CCTV based at Junction Street, WEC Fabrication and WEC Large Machining based in Springvale House in Darwen: WEC CNC Machining in Walker Park, Blackburn and WEC Waterjet on Shadsworth Business Park, Blackburn.

Other divisions are based in Motherwell in Scotland, Rotherham and Leeds in Yorkshire, Knowsley on Merseyside, Preston, and Coventry in the West Midlands.

It has a total of 600,000 square feet of manufacturing floorspace and serves the nuclear, aerospace, oil and gas, defence, rail and marine industries.

The 2009 Lancashire Telegraph Business of the Year, WEC was established by Mr Hartley as a small welding and fabrication shop in a makeshift shed in Darwen. It describes itself as one of the ‘largest contract manufacturing companies in Europe. But Mr Hartley, aged 62, still gives his occupation as ‘welder’ on the firm’s return to Companies House.

The firm’s website says: “Apprenticeships are at the heart of our continued growth and success and the WEC Group Training Academy is the only one of its kind in the UK.”

In its last filed accounts for 2016, WEC group made a profit of £1.27m on a turnover of £27.7m compared to a profit in 2015 of £1.95m on a turnover of £29.26m. A private limited company, the deal to buy the firm is likely have run into tens of millions.

WEC Group sponsored the Darwen End at Blackburn Rovers' Ewood Park ground from 2008 until 2012 and last year became the football club’s official social media sponsor for in March last year.

Blackburn with Darwen Council Tory group leader John Slater said: “Hopefully this will mean investment and jobs for Darwen and open up new markets in America.”

“I don’t want a repeat of the American takeover of Crown Wallcoverings which started the demise of the company.””

Sudell Liberal Democrat councillor Roy Davies said: “I hope WEC’s new owners will invest in the company and Darwen rather than asset strip it. This is unknown territory.”

WEC has played a significant part in its home town’s life including replacing the dome of Darwen Tower after it blew off.