Governor to meet with Whirlpool execs

Governor to meet with Whirlpool execs
 
Date May 04, 2006
Section(s) Local News
Brief  
 
By ANDY KARR

NDN Staff Writer

Gov. Tom Vilsack will fly to Benton Harbor, Mich. today to meet with top Whirlpool officials and discuss the fate of the company’s 4,000 Iowa jobs.

The big question for Newton residents is whether that trip will include serious discussion about Iowa building a new super efficient showcase factory in Newton.

On Tuesday, Vilsack told The Cedar Rapids Gazette that he is toying with the idea of having Iowa build a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant. Such a move would be part of an effort encouraging Whirlpool to maintain Maytag‘s manufacturing footprint in the state. Former Maytag facilities now owned by Whirlpool include those in Newton, Amana and North Liberty. Since acquiring Maytag for $2.6 billion on March 31, Whirlpool officials have been looking at how to best integrate the two companies.

Vilsack spokesperson Jennifer Mullin said that building a new plant is just one idea at this point. The plant would be built in Newton, she said, then either sold or leased back to Whirlpool.

“The intent is to make the operations in Newton super efficient so they would be able to compete with the other Whirlpool plants,” Mullin said.

The “super efficient” plant could replace Newton’s current factory, which repeatedly had been flagged by former Maytag CEO Ralph Hake as the most costly plant in the company.

Whether the idea of a new plant would interest Whirlpool is unclear. Mullin said so far, Whirlpool executives had not shown much enthusiasm for such a plan.

“The governor floated that idea to Whirlpool executives,” she said. “They didn’t seem interested.”

Whirlpool spokesperson Jody Lau confirmed that Vilsack was scheduled to visit Benton Harbor today, but declined to elaborate on the specifics of what would be discussed, or whether the idea of a new plant in Newton would entice Whirlpool to keep manufacturing jobs here.

Regardless, the idea of a state-constructed showcase factory in Newton excites Mayor Chaz Allen.

“The governor’s been closely tied to the process of helping save jobs in Newton,” he said. “It’s another plan in our arsenal to keep Whirlpool around.”

Vilsack, along with other local and state officials, met with Whirlpool executives last Thursday in Des Moines. At that meeting, the governor highlighted the challenge facing the state in retaining former Maytag jobs.

“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,” he said adding, “It may not be in the capacity of any government to make up that competitive difference.”

Allen said that such a big challenge calls for big ideas.

“Like the governor says, this is a very challenging process because of the international nature of Whirlpool,” he said. “This is such a challenging process we have to come up with big ideas to see if we can retain the jobs in Newton.”

Last Thursday, Whirlpool’s president of North American operations, Dave Swift, reiterated Whirlpool’s timeline. He expects Whirlpool to have an integration plan by the end of May.

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