Whirlpool, government discuss jobs

Whirlpool, government discuss jobs
 
Date April 28, 2006
Section(s) Local News
Brief  
 
By ANDY KARR

NDN Staff Writer

DES MOINES — Whirlpool, government and union officials met at the Iowa Department of Economic Development on Thursday to discuss the company’s future in Iowa. Newton officials who attended the closed meeting said no specific incentives were discussed, and the meeting simply allowed communities and the state to showcase what they have to offer Whirlpool.

“This was just about the fabric of your community, what is the fabric of your community. It really wasn’t about incentives,” Mayor Chaz Allen said, adding that he came away from the meeting feeling “hopeful” about the retention of Whirlpool jobs in Newton.

Whirlpool completed a $2.6 billion purchase of Maytag on March 31, assuming control of the Newton-based company and about 4,000 Maytag jobs throughout Iowa. Former Maytag employees and all of Newton have been waiting since then to learn the fate of jobs in the community.

During a visit to Newton on April 4, Dave Swift, Whirlpool’s president of North American operations, said his company was crunching numbers and would have a decision by the end of May on how to integrate the two companies. He reiterated that timeline on Thursday when he and Gov. Tom Vilsack addressed the media.

Asked what it would take to keep some or all of Whirlpool’s 4,000 Iowa jobs in the state Swift responded, “There’s not one single point — it’s trying to understand a total solution and that involves all aspects. It has to relate to the logistics, the infrastructure that exists, as well as the things that the state and the communities can do, and that’s just part of the formula we have to look at.”

Vilsack noted the challenge now facing state and local officials.

“I don’t want to underestimate the difficulty of the challenge that is faced because there are significant differences in terms of cost of doing business in other locations. We’re going to do our level best over the course of the next couple meetings as well as the next couple of weeks to put our best foot forward,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack said Whirlpool officials may not have had much confidence in the State of Iowa but that in recent discussions he believes they at least had “given them pause.”

“It’s a very competitive circumstance and I don’t want to mislead anybody. It’s a very, very competitive circumstance, and it may be in the capacity of any government to make up that competitive difference,” he said. “I think that’s what we have to learn from each other.”

DURING THE MEETING, Newton Development Corporation Executive Director Kim Didier spoke on Newton’s behalf, highlighting some of the positive traits the community has to offer.

“Basically our message was that we’re forging ahead and that there have been very positive developments in our community, which reinforces the fact that we have a competitive business environment,” Didier said.

She highlighted the Iowa Speedway, biodiesel plant, the new nursing program at DMACC and proposed developments like the Love’s travel center and the hotel/waterpark.

State Sen. Dennis Black said the mention of the Newton Promise proposal in particular caught the attention of Whirlpool executives.

“The Whirlpool executives were very attentive, and I noticed they were actively engaging in the visual aids and writing notes after being presented the issues and assets of the community after Ms. Didier took the podium.”

Didier said the meeting was “from our perspective, very positive. They were well receiving of the message.”

UAW President Ted Johnson, who also attended the meeting, told the Associated Press there’s a chance Iowa could keep laundry production jobs in Newton.

“We’ve got the workforce, we’ve got the commitment, we’ve got the education and we’ve certainly got the know-how to build products,” Johnson said. “All we need now is the product to build.”

About 13 years ago, state and local governments and utilities offered about $9 million in incentives for Maytag to produce the Neptune washer and dryer locally. Employment at the factory was as high as 2,500 just a few years ago, but has fallen to around 1,000 workers at the factory recently. It’s unclear at this point if such another incentive program could be used to keep production jobs in Newton.

“There’s no doubt about it, my membership needs to see some positives, and I believe that they would respond remarkably well if they’d see some,” Johnson said.

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