Whirlpool to Close Fort Smith Plant by Mid-2012; 1,000 to Lose Jobs

by Rob Keys and Lance Turner  on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011 3:00 pm  

Whirlpool's 1.2 million-SF plant at 6400 Jenny Lind Road in Fort Smith.

(Update: Whirlpool announces 5,000 job cuts companywide in cost-cutting effort.) 

Whirlpool Corp. of Benton Harbor, Mich., said Thursday that it will close its 45-year-old side-by-side refrigerator manufacturing plant there, which employs 1,000 people, by "mid-2012."

Employees who talked to Fort Smith CBS affiliate KFSM-TV, Channel 5, said layoffs at the 1.2 million-SF plant will begin in January.

In a statement, Whirlpool attributed the "difficult but necessary" move to "a decrease in demand for the side-by-side refrigerator platforms that has resulted from the continued weakness in the global economy, and the aggressive pricing actions of global competitors ..."

The company said the move will affect its 1,000 active employees, including 90 salaried and 884 hourly workers, along with 800 employees on layoff from the plant. Whirlpool said it is working with local and state officials to make sure "all available training resources are made available to affected employees."

"Obviously it's a blow, a large blow, to the economy," Kathy Deck, director of the Center for Business & Economic Research at the University of Arkansas' Walton Business College, said Thursday.

"I think Fort Smith, like many communities across the country, faces the questions of, ‘What do we do with our workforce now?'" she said.

Production Moves to Mexico, Other States

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., said he was "disappointed" by the announcement. Womack represents Arkansas' 3rd District, which includes Fort Smith.

"Despite the news, I consider the Fort Smith region one of America's most attractive areas for economic development. It is ideally situated with incredible infrastructure and a quality of life second to none in the country," he said.

"With a qualified workforce and the supporting institutions, I am confident we'll find another corporate partner who believes in Fort Smith and the enormous opportunities it offers."

Whirlpool said production at the Fort Smith plant will shift to the company's other North American sites, with trash compactor production moving to Ottawa, Ohio; built-in refrigerator production moving to Amana, Iowa; and side-by-side refrigerators moving to Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.



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