While spirits will be high in Fort Smith over Gov. Mike Beebe's "economic expansion" announcement later today, the ghost of one of the city's major employers lingers.
Whirlpool, of Benton Harbor, Mich., confirmed in September a purchase deal for the 1.2 million-SF plant with Infinity, which specializes in disposing of assets of public and private companies.
The property was left empty after the appliance maker finally announced in October 2011 that it would close, leaving 800 people without a job and moving its operations to other plants, including one in Mexico.
Local chamber officials had cautioned that Whirlpool's plans to sell to Infinity had not been finalized, and the potential new owner was an investment group, not one that would set up shop and support hundreds of jobs.
Still, local officials were optimistic, according to KFSM-TV, Channel 5, in northwest Arkansas. It's not easy to unload a building that size:
“When it finally comes out that they are interested you can rest assured they’re serious,” said Philip Merry, city director.
It's unclear why Infinity pulled out of the deal. But it's back to work for local and state economic development officials seeking to find a new owner.
Noted: Fort Smith's most recent unemployment, for October, was 7.9 percent. The only metro in Arkansas with a higher rate? Pine Bluff, at 8.5 percent.
Also: This week's Arkansas Times' cover story takes a look at Fort Smith post-Whirlpool, with focus on the workers left behind:
People like Howard Carruth, 62, who worked at Whirlpool as a millwright for 43 years, 83 days, and served as the vice president of the United Steelworkers Union Local 370. Like Kathy Palmer, a former press operator who started at Whirlpool when she was 19 and who worries that at age 57, she's going to have trouble finding a job. Like Melissa Dorr, 49, who worked 26 years and one month at the plant, and who says she can't bring herself to even drive by the old factory: "It makes me sick that I wasted all that time there."
The whole story's available here.
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