Bulgaria’s steel plant Stomana Industries – the pride of the former Communist regime, named «Lenin,» which came to near-bankruptcy in 1999, has staged an impressive recovery since its acquisition by Greece’s biggest metallurgy group, Viohalco, despite tough global competition in the sector. Viohalco to date has invested $41 million – against a minimum of $34 million under the purchase agreement – in the plant, discarding obsolete technology and considerably upgrading capacity. According to Anton Petrov, Viohalco’s permanent representative in Bulgaria, production in 2003 surged 50 percent, reaching 600,000 tons of metallic products. With exports of 153 million euros, Stomana figures among Bulgaria’s 10 largest companies. Workers’ salaries rose 20 percent last year. «We are taking particular care of our personnel, with emphasis on training and retraining, having set a goal to make Stomana a Bulgarian enterprise that has nothing to envy in any of the modern plants elsewhere in Europe,» said the company’s managing director Athanassios Athanassopoulos. This month Stomana plans to install ultramodern «Schroder» technology for breaking up obsolete cars and household appliances and separating metallic from non-metallic parts. The investment is projected to upgrade the quality of raw material for steel production and help solve the problem of the multitude of old cars – notably Ladas – now rotting in the streets of Bulgarian cities. Late on Tuesday, representatives of Viohalco and the previous owners signed an agreement in Sofia for an early repayment this year – instead of 2005 – of the last of the three $5 million installments for the purchase of the plant.