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Making Canada a little colder.

For 36 years, Whirlpool Corp. has made refrigerators for Americans at its huge blue-green plant on U.S. 41, but by the beginning of next year, Evansville-built refrigerators will be shipped to markets throughout Canada as well.

By the end of 1991, Whirlpool plans to close its Port Credit, Ontario, plant that built Whirlpool, Kenmore, Inglis and other brand names to sell in the Canadian market. The transfer of Canadian production to Evansville is just part of the reason a renaissance is taking place at the plant, which has seen the addition of more than 400 workers this year and the promised addition of another 750 during 1992's second quarter.

The boost in employment at the plant also has added dozens of engineers and will push the work force to more than 4,300, allowing Whirlpool to reclaim its status as Evansville's largest employer, a position it held prior to the late 1980s, when massive layoffs were an annual event.

Whirlpool's restoration in Evansville single-handedly is lowering the area's unemployment rate and is a cornerstone in Evansville Mayor Frank McDonald II's campaign for re-election this year.

The constant flow of good news out of Whirlpool is in sharp contrast to the not-so-veiled threats from management, made just 21 months ago, that the plant would be closed if there were no contract concessions. Management said it was losing its competitive edge in both wages and engineering to the two other major U.S. refrigerator makers, General Electric Co. and White Consolidated Industries Inc.

While Evansville leaders have been pleasantly surprised by the dividend of 1,200 jobs, the capital investment is turning out to be a more aggressive one than promised. The company now says it will spend at least $110 million in Evansville. In fact, a major construction project on one of the plant's two production lines is reaching its peak this month.

Shortly after the union accepted concessions in February 1990, the contract received the corporate imprimatur when Whirlpool CEO David Whitwam praised the sacrifice of Evansville workers in a quarterly earnings report. The pat on the back from Whitwam turned out to be a sign that Evansville had become central in the company's production plans.

This past January, Whirlpool announced it would cut 850 jobs at its Canadian and Fort Smith, Ark., plants, and add 800 jobs in Evansville. But in September, the company revised that number to about 1,200, including white-collar jobs, partly because demand for refrigerators was surprisingly good this past summer.

While demand for refrigerators was surprisingly good, outstripping production, the company still believes growth in long-term North American demand for refrigerators will be modest over the next few years. The expansion in Evansville mainly will come from production transfers, a switch in demand for more labor-intensive models and the capital investment program.

The Evansville plant produces refrigerators with the freezers on top or bottom. Side-by-side refrigerators, with the freezers running vertically the height of the entire unit, are made in Fort Smith, Ark.
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Title Annotation:Whirlpool Corp. increases investment in Evansville plant
Author:Sword, Doug
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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