Whirlpool Considers Moving Some Production to Mexico

by Lance Turner  on Monday, Nov. 10, 2003 12:28 pm  

Whirlpool Corp. on Monday said it might move production of some of its refrigeration products from its Fort Smith plant to a new facility in Mexico — an announcement taken as an ominous sign by the state's chief economic development officer.

In a news release, Whirlpool said it might move production of some products, particularly in its refrigeration segment, to Mexico, where it plans to expand an existing manufacturing plant. It said it expects to reach a final decision about what production lines it will move sometime in 2005.

"Frankly, I fear this is not entirely good news for Arkansas," Jim Pickens, the retiring director of the state's Department of Economic Development, told Arkansasbusiness.com on Monday.

Pickens said he's been in contact with Whirlpool officials and expects to meet with them in Little Rock in the near future to discuss the Fort Smith plant. Pickens said he does not expect Whirlpool to close the plant, but he wants to make sure as many jobs remain as possible.

"They are at least open to further discussion," Pickens said. "And certainly I don't expect them to move the entire operation, as I mentioned earlier. But since there are so many jobs, not only [at Whirlpool] but with their supply chain, I'm concerned as to what amount of refrigeration will we be losing."

Tom Mansky, the new president of the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce, said Monday that sources at the company have told him that no definitive plans for moving jobs are in place. Mansky said it's possible that Fort Smith could get jobs from other Whirlpool plants.

But Mansky speculated that Whirlpool might decide to make a specific product at the plant, while moving production of others elsewhere.

"We hope we don't lose anything, but it looks like there's the possibility that some jobs could be moved to another facility," he said.

In its announcement, Whirlpool said it is investing $100 million to expand some of its plants throughout the country, including at Findlay and Marion, Ohio; Evansville, Ind.; LaVergne, Tenn.; Oxford, Miss.; and Tulsa. The Fort Smith plant was not included in those investments.

Whirlpool in Fort Smith employs about 4,500. In October 2002, the company said it would add about 700 more jobs during the next three years to make a new line of refrigerators at the plant. Today's announcement by Whirlpool called those plans into question.

Whirlpool's Fort Smith division makes side-by-side refrigerators, trash compactors and ice makers. Whirlpool has been in Fort Smith since 1966. It is the city's largest employer.

On Monday, Pickens said the possibility of Whirlpool moving manufacturing jobs outside U.S. borders is part of a trend throughout the country.

"I'll tell you, the exodus of manufacturing jobs offshore I think is fast becoming a national problem. And practically every state has suffered significant job losses as manufacturing seems to find other places to produce products cheaper," he said.

Pickens cited the comments of former Wal-Mart President and CEO David Glass, who told members of the Little Rock Rotary Club last week that companies have lost a desire to manufacture within U.S. borders, which will hurt the country in the long run.

Glass said the country is going to have to find some way to make businesses want to manufacture in the United States, or the country will be in jeopardy.



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