Whirlpool adds Meredith exec to its board

June 21, 2006
Whirlpool adds Meredith exec to its board
Date June 21, 2006
Section(s) Business
DES MOINES (AP) — Whirlpool Corp. announced Tuesday that it has appointed Meredith Corp. chief executive William T. Kerr to its board.

Kerr’s appointment increases the Whirlpool board to 14.

Kerr, 65, is Des Moines-based magazine publisher Meredith’s board chairman and CEO.

Meredith publishes 25 subscription magazines including Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal and about 200 special interest publications. Its broadcast division owns 14 television stations.

Kerr also serves on the board of Principal Financial Group, a Des Moines-based insurance and financial services company. He also was a member of the Maytag Corp. board prior to the company’s sale to Whirlpool in March.

“Bill’s broad business and consumer background make him a valued addition to our board,” said Jeff M. Fettig, Whirlpool’s chairman and CEO.

Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool has sales of more than $19 billion and employs more than 80,000 workers. Its brand names include Maytag, KitchenAid, Whirlpool and Amana.

Whirlpool shares closed 21 cents lower at $79.16 on the New York Stock Exchange. Meredith shares closed 38 cents lower at $48.29.


County’s population up slightly

June 21, 2006
County’s population up slightly
Date June 21, 2006
Section(s) Local News


Jasper County’s population saw modest growth in the past five years even in the face of huge job losses at Maytag during that time period.

The county’s population grew an estimated 1.2 percent from April 2000 to July 2005, according to U.S. Census Bureau information released today. The new figures give Jasper County a population of 37,674, up 461 people from the 2000 census report.

Jasper County’s rate of growth is slightly lower than the state’s overall population gain of 1.4 percent. Iowa had an estimated population of 2,966,334 in July 2005 compared to 2,926,324 five years earlier.

Newton’s population was stagnant during the time period, gaining just five people from the 2000 census estimate of 15,602. However, during that time period as many as 2,000 jobs were lost at Maytag‘s Newton factory and its corporate headquarters site.

Residents moving into rural areas of the county accounted for most of the population growth. Rural residential populations rose 2.6 percent from 12,367 to 12,687, an increase of 320 people.

Among incorporated cities, Prairie City saw the largest numerical and percentage increase over the five-year period. The community located along Jasper County’s western edge adjacent to Polk County grew 4.3 percent, from 1,365 to 1,424, an increase of 59 individuals over the time frame.

Monroe added 30 new residents while Kellogg grew by 21. Only Sully (down 16) and Lambs Grove (down 7) saw population declines during the time frame.

The census data showed that most of the growth in the state occurred in and adjacent to Iowa’s largest communities of Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. Altoona, for instance, grew nearly 25 percent during the five-year time span, adding more than 2,500 people to its population base. Ankeny added nearly 9,500 residents, growing 34.5 percent.

Culver, Edwards visit with Maytag workers

June 13, 2006
Culver, Edwards visit with Maytag workers
Date June 13, 2006
Section(s) Local News

NDN Staff Writer

Less than a week after winning the primary as the Democratic nominee for Iowa’s top office, Chet Culver visited Newton alongside the 2004 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Sen. John Edwards.

Culver and Edwards were greeted by members of UAW 997 and community members at the local union hall, where the pair discussed Culver’s platform and the effect the closing of Maytag will have on workers, their families and the entire Newton community.

“My heart really goes out to each of the displaced workers and their families,” said Culver of the Maytag employees. “My commitment as governor is that I will fight every day for (displaced workers).”

Culver said he would work to help ease the transition process, begin a Displaced Workers Union, create a supplemental health program and restructure the re-education process.

“The biggest challenge is matching skills and interests to jobs available in the area. I’ve heard of too many stories that people go through the education programs, work hard, do well, get a degree of some sort and nothing is available,” Culver said.

Edwards backed Culver’s statements and added that changes need to be made in the United States’ trade policy to help American workers compete in a global economy. He also said there was a need for the federal government to recognize the importance of and to help the working men and women like those at Maytag.

“I would start by saying our government, both the state and federal government, need to recognize the men and women who have worked a job for 20 years, supported their families and are now 45, 50 years old and out of work deserve a little respect,” he told the audience. “The real starting place is a trade policy that recognizes the American worker should have the right to compete.”

Culver also discussed other major issues in his platform, including protecting women’s health care choices, enforcing laws currently “on the books” regarding illegal immigration, raising teacher pay to the national average and making college education attainable to lower and middle class individuals. Along with making a statewide scholarship pool that would be initiated in 2008 if he is elected, Culver said he supports programs like the Newton Promise that will make college accessible to everyone.

“I think any program at state or local level that can help (students) reach their God-given potential is a good one,” he said of the Newton Promise.

Lot of reasons for Maytag’s failure

June 12, 2006
Lot of reasons for Maytag’s failur
Date June 12, 2006
Section(s) Opinion
To the Editor:

There is a lot of conjecture over how a once well managed and cash abundant Maytag corporation could have come to this end.

Amoung a lot of bad decisions lies an over riding fault.

The last group of CEOs were not willing to use the expertise of their knowledgeable staff. For some reason many CEO’s rise to the top from one area of expertise and right away think they have the same expertise in the other facets of the corporation.

As we know, profit is what is left over when the cost of sales is deducted from the sale of products. Since the vast majority of cost is generated in the manufacturing operation (labor and purchased materials), it would stand to reason that the manufacturing costs be given the highest consideration. Not so the last years at Maytag.

The biggest inefficiency in manufacturing comes from the cost of changing production rates. It generates line downtime, wasted management time, scrap, overtime, extra workers, layoff costs, etc. But instead of stabilizing the production rate, they dictated that rates be set at the highly unreliable marketing forecasts. Typically, this resulted in prodction rate changes.

In short, rates should have been set by what marketing’s feet were doing not their mouth. The CEO’s didn’t understand that the entire plant is staffed to build the given number of products each day and every time one unit doesn’t come off the end of the line the cost of everyone’s labor in the plant must be spread over the rest of production driving up the cost per unit and eroding profits.

Now, they did dictate that “lean manufacturing concepts” be adopted. They took these principles out of context from the Toyota system –just-in-time, Kaisens etc.

The authors of that system specifically state that these efforts will fail if production rates aren’t stabilized, and how right they are.

Another case in point was the decision to change all the computer systems in the corporation to the AS400. I don’t know if this made sense in financial or marketing but it was disastrous to manufacturing because it was unfriendly to the flow of materials causing line downtime and a fantastic amount of management time trying to make it work instead of working on productive endeavors. Again they wouldn’t listen to manufacturing.

In more than one instance, they threw millions at “upgrading the facilities.” These caused major interruptions in production and even if successful, wouldn’t have saved near as much as stabilizing production,which costs nothing to implement, if done right.

The litany goes on but this is where the major fault is, here and an inept board of directors. Then these same people walked away rewarded beyond belief.

Let this be a lesson to others lest it happen to them, and alas, it will.

Jim Kirwan

Franklin, Tenn.

City outlines plans to deal with Maytag job losses

June 9, 2006
City outlines plans to deal with Maytag job losses
Date June 09, 2006
Section(s) Local News

NDN Staff Writer

Bryan Friedman’s optimism for Newton’s future shines through every time he speaks before Newton City Council. On Monday evening, Newton’s community development director again showed his enthusiasm in outlining what the future has in store for the community in the wake of Whirlpool’s earth-shattering announcement in May that they would cease all Maytag operations here in 2007.

Friedman has made a habit out of using colorful metaphors when addressing council, whether it be an apple held over his head to demonstrate “Newton’s” law of gravity (to attract development) or the unlikely quote from rapper Eminem that he used Monday.

“We only got one shot. Do not miss our chance or blow this opportunity. It comes once in a lifetime. Yo,” Friedman said to chuckles from the audience.

While a future hip-hop career might be out of the question for Friedman, his never-say-die positive attitude underscores his central message: Newton should focus not just on surviving but also on thriving in the wake of the loss of the largest employer it ever had.

“Even when you see it coming, it still hurts to get socked in the gut,” Friedman said, Monday. “Twenty-six days ago we were socked in the gut, so to speak. when we got that jarring news.”

Before council, Friedman highlighted some of the things that are already occurring in Newton since Whirlpool handed down news of Maytag‘s departure.

Already, there is a job center set up in DMACC facilities — a joint effort between Whirlpool, DMACC and Iowa Workforce Development.

“This center provides a resource for workers who are losing their jobs and provides access to a full array of services from unemployment benefits all the way to retraining information and job fairs,” Friedman said.

He noted that Mayor Chaz Allen was in Washington this week to meet with federal officials about more aid for Newton.

The Newton transformation council has been meeting since October to plan a response to the Whirlpool/Maytag situation. The group consists of officials from Iowa Workforce Development, Iowa Department of Economic Development, Newton Development Corporation, the city, utility companies, congressional officials and Whirlpool officials.

“This group has an ambitious agenda,” Friedman said. “It’s to provide a unified response to mobilize resources to help better the futures of the workers affected by the Maytag pull out, to really focus on the best reuse for the Maytag facilities and to create opportunities for entrepreneurs to be fully supported in starting and accelerating new business opportunities.”

The community is diversifying the economy with the Prairie Fire development area taking shape around the Iowa Speedway. Friedman said the city fields daily calls from around the country inquiring into the development in Newton, including the old Maytag facilities.

“There are some fantastic spaces there,” he said, noting that getting companies to move into those spaces would cost money.

One way to overcome that, he said, is Iowa Values Fund, which last month earmarked $10 million to attract new business to Newton over the next three years.

“With this set aside, special attention has been spotlighted on Newton and I think it will hopefully draw more interest from interested parties for projects,” Friedman said.

To be eligible for those funds, a business must meet Iowa Values Fund criteria, which includes being fully collateralized and meeting a wage threshold of 130 percent of the average county wage. In Jasper County, that is in the $20-an-hour range, Friedman said, but would fall closer to $16 without the inclusion of Maytag jobs. The state also requires a 20 percent local match to access these funds.

Friedman suggested the city start a “Gravity Fund” for the local match dollars and to fund other community investments like infrastructure. And with Newton’s sesquicentennial coming up next year, Friedman likes the idea of forming a committee to hold a showcase celebration for the community.

“It would be fitting to have that milestone year also be a turning point in establishing a new community identity,” he said.

Friedman closed his presentation by calling for the community to stay confident and positive. People should hold family reunions here to show off Newton and attend local events like the Iowa Sculpture Festival at Maytag Park this weekend.

“The last thing we need to do is pull back in fear — back into our shell like a frightened turtle,” he said. “These extraordinary times call for some bold action. If necessity is the mother of invention, then this is a big mother.”

Mayor Allen meets with labor officials

June 8, 2006
Mayor Allen meets with labor officials
Date June 08, 2006
Section(s) Local News

NDN Staff Writer

Newton Mayor Chaz Allen is in Washington this week, meeting with federal officials to discuss the possibility of aid for laid-off Maytag employees.

Allen met with Department of Labor Assistant Secretary Emily Stover DeRocco on Wednesday and said the meetings helped him understand the process of applying for aid.

“It went incredibly well,” Allen said. “They were very receptive and very willing to make the best effort to get what we need.”

Allen said training adjustment assistance possibly could be obtained by applying. That funding would go to Iowa Workforce Development, which would then use it to help displaced Maytag workers receive additional training and learn new skills.

“They’re going to let us apply early,” Allen said.

Today Allen meets with Iowa congressmen Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Leonard Boswell for further discussions on aid.

Allen said Grassley wants the Department of Labor to send a community action team to Newton to learn firsthand what displaced workers here need.

“The Department and I will host an economic development and community adjustment meeting for city and local leaders, workforce and education professionals, and local economic development partners,” Grassley said in a released statement. “It’s my intention to work with the mayor and have this meeting scheduled as soon as possible so we can get the Newton community the assistance they need.”

Don’t squander Newton’s future

June 7, 2006
Don’t squander Newton’s future
Date June 07, 2006
Section(s) Opinion
To the Editor:

Yesterday while driving past the skeleton of the Newton shopping center to pickup groceries at the soon-to-be-closed Aldi’s, the popular Bruce Springsteen song, “My Hometown” played on the radio. The troubled, haunting lyrics forced me to pull into the mall parking lot and privately mourn the destruction of my hometown.

Springsteen’s lyrics capture the essence of Newton’s tremendous loss, “Troubled times had come to my hometown … Now main streets whitewashed windows and vacant stores, seems like there aint nobody wants to come down here no more. They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks, Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they aint coming back. To your hometown.”

Newton is my hometown. A town overflowing with myriad childhood memories of sitting on the steps of the old Churchill Hotel watching the Greyhound buses roll in, or riding my single speed Schwinn bicycle to the Newton Carnegie Library to checkout a Nancy Drew book, or stopping by Bigelow’s restaurant after school (Central Middle School) for a cherry coke. Today, these memories are but pictures in my mind, as Newton’s history has been effectively obliterated by Newton economic developers and city council members.

Somewhere along the way Newton transplants formulated a plan to re-structure my hometown. The results are quite obvious; the previous, incompetent decision-makers were replaced by, in my opinion, more inept, self-serving leadership. While Pella, on the other hand, embraced and capitalized on its heritage, Newtonians watched horrified as its history was being erased.

During Monday’s city council meeting Bryan Friedman, Newton’s Community Development director delivered his department report. In the course of his presentation, he remarked that hopefully Newton’s disappointment with Whirlpool’s decision to pullout would not taint Maytag‘s legacy and landmarks. Friedman cited the possibility that Newton citizens could eventually refer to the Maytag Park and the Maytag Bowl as the “M park and the M bowl,” by refusing to utter the name Maytag.

This startlingly revelation was a bona fide eye-opener, that perhaps the individuals at the helm of my hometown demonstrate a dysfunctional mindset about Newton’s future. I highly doubt that those of us who love our hometown would ever adopt this mentality. Fred Maytag is etched in genuine Newtonian minds as a revolutionary, visionary entrepreneur, whose conventional wisdom allowed this community to successfully thrive. Maytag‘s landmarks are a testament to the Maytag family’s contribution to my hometown, Newton.

As Andy Karr’s article reported, I was extremely critical of certain city council members and the manner in which they continually conduct business with taxpayer’s money behind closed doors. I’m certain countless Newton citizens agree with that opinion, while others may disagree. Yet, I firmly believe that it is my constitutional right to express my opinion, without being admonished by those in power. The wise old saying reminds us that, “The truth hurts.” Morgan and Hansen’s “bristled response” that city business is not pre-planned may very well validate this writer’s opinion. Please do not squander Newton’s future.

Deana Williams


Rates keep going up

June 5, 2006
Rates keep going up
Date June 05, 2006
Section(s) Opinion
To the Editor:

You know it is is really great when the city of Newton is on the down side with a lot of fixed income people, Maytag selling us down the tube and the utility rates keep going up.

I guess the big shots just want to keep their billfold full and the heck with the rest of the town.

Jerry Rouze


Go for it

June 5, 2006
Go for it
Date June 05, 2006
Section(s) Opinion
To the Editor:

As a native of Albia, Iowa, I was concerned when I read of the death of Maytag in Newton, a great employer in central Iowa.

Hope your industrial development team looks into the establishment of an ethanol plant — definitely in the future for corn rich Iowa.

Go for it.

Jerry Judge

Chula Vista, Calif.

New Meisner owner hopes to power up growth

June 5, 2006
New Meisner owner hopes to power up growth
Date June 05, 2006
Section(s) Local News

NDN Staff Writer

Meet the new owner of Meisner Electric, Bill Johnson.

Johnson purchased Meisner Electric last month, and he already is hard at work in the company’s Newton headquarters at 200-C N. Eighth Ave. E. An electrician by trade, Johnson has some big plans for his new company, not the least of which is growing Meisner into the largest and best electrical company in the state of Iowa.

Hailing most recently from Texas, Johnson is no stranger to Newton, and his move here marks a homecoming of sorts. Johnson worked for Meisner in the ’70s. Now he comes full circle, returning to the company where he completed the apprenticeship that jump-started his career as an electrician.

“I went through it,” he said. “I can’t really say that there’s a day I regretted going into it. I love what I do.”

Armed with his love for his trade and a desire to grow Meisner, Johnson already is thinking big. The new CEO wants to bump the number of employees from 86 up as high as 150 within the next year and a half.

Johnson believes his company can support that influx of workers, and he thinks laid off Maytag employees are the perfect people to help Meisner reach its potential.

“The Maytagers have a work ethic we’re looking for,” he said. “They are a stable bunch of people that are really battling right now with what they’re going to do.”

Johnson’s solution for laid-off Maytag employees: Train with Meisner to become a licensed electrician, a position Johnson says is in high demand. Meisner offers a four-year apprenticeship through which future electricians learn on the job, earn a salary and take one four-hour class a week. It’s the same program Johnson himself went through and one he highly recommends.

“There’s not too many four-year colleges you can go through, make a decent living and get out without having loans to pay off,” he said.

Johnson admits that an apprentice salary would be a pay cut for a typical Maytag worker, but he adds that Meisner employees learn through varied jobs and earn raises as they work toward journeyman status.

“You learn something new in every job you do,” he said.

In addition to growing Meisner’s operations, Johnson wants to see his company increase its involvement in the community by helping build homes through Habitat for Humanity and working with students through the trades program at Newton Senior High School. Johnson speaks of community service as “the right thing to do.”

Indeed, Johnson talks at length about the importance of strong work ethic and community service. He places high value on those concepts. Walking through Meisner’s headquarters, Johnson is stopped by an employee who tells the new CEO how impressive his son’s work ethic is.

Johnson beams from the compliment.

He says his son, Dallas, 20, has been putting in long hours already at company headquarters. Long-term, Johnson hopes to build the company into a legacy he can pass onto his son.

Short-term, Johnson’s plans to hire new workers and increase community service should increase Meisner’s role in Newton and Iowa.

“I think Meisner Electric in the next two years will be pretty high profile in Newton,” Johnson said.