Whirlpool to close Benton Harbor facility, cut 216 jobs

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The top appliance maker in the world will no longer make appliances in its home town of Benton Harbor.

Whirlpool announced Tuesday its last manufacturing facility in the area will close by late 2010 or early 2011. 216 people will lose their jobs.

The washing machine parts made inside the Benton Harbor facility are for older models that will be phased out, Whirlpool said in a statement.

The work that’s now done in Benton Harbor will soon be transferred to a plant in Ohio.

"Times have changed and unfortunately the technologies today are different when that facility was put into place,” said Wendy Dant Chesser of Cornerstone Alliance, the economic development entity for the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph area.

Just next to the Whirlpool facility is Michigan Works!, where they expect an influx of former employees.

"All we can do is offer them the best services that we can, so those who are ready to job search right now, we can help them look for another job, work on a resume, cover letter, some interview skills," said Betsy Loeks, with Michigan Works! (http://michiganworks.org/)

Just down the road from there is River’s Edge Bar, where Melinda Larson works as a bartender. Her husband was told Tuesday he would be losing his job after 15 years at Whirlpool.

"We have kids, we have a mortgage, what are we gonna do? I mean that's what I think of -- what are we gonna do? I don't wanna lose my house,” said Larson.

Larson says there have been rumors for years that the plant would close. And the company said in a statement Tuesday that it had informed employees in 2009 that the washing machine units they made parts for would be phased out at some point in the future.

Still, Larson says, she wonders what’s next.

“I look at this bar, who depends on Whirlpool people who come down here and drink, and eat dinner,” she said.

“Now, what are they gonna do?”

“We're just plain people,” she added. “Plain, middle-class people that just try to pay our bills and now, one more thing. His job will be gone," said Larson.

A full statement from Whirlpool about the facility closing is below:

“The machining facility makes parts for a 25 year old washing machine platform. We announced to employees at the facility in February 2009 that this platform would be phased out in favor of two new energy efficient platforms - to be made at our Ohio facilities - that would use far fewer components. In May of 2009 we shared with our employees that the machining for the new technology platforms would be in volumes so low that maintaining production at the facility was not feasible. We also conducted a study to evaluate bringing other kinds of production to the facility. Unfortunately, no scenario we looked at would allow us to do in a way that was scalable and that would help us to remain competitive in the evolving, global economy.

It's important to note that this was purely a business decision and in no way reflects upon our employees, who by all accounts have done everything we asked of them. They are a terrific workforce, something we will be proactively sharing as we work with our partners in the community to help to attract other businesses to our region.

As the business has changed, and will continue to change, so will the makeup and composition of our local workforce. It's important to note that in 2002, as part of a local incentive package, Whirlpool Corporation committed to maintaining 2,465 jobs in the area through 2012. Today, we have more than 4,000 jobs, and remain as committed to the community in which our company was founded nearly 100 years ago.” - Jill Saletta, Director, External Communications, Whirlpool Corporation.