Whirlpool this (Wednesday) morning announced it plans to pull all Maytag operations out of Newton. The company acquired Maytag in early April and now plans to close the manufacturing plant in Newton and consolidate all administrative offices in Whirlpool’s Benton Harbor, Michigan headquarters — a move that will close the Maytag administrative offices in Newton.
A Whirlpool statement calls the closures “steps to integrate Maytag” into Whirlpool’s operations. Dan Verakis, senior manager of media relations at Whirlpool, says the company had promised in early April to make a quick decision about the future of Maytag operations. “We know Maytag people have been through a lot these past couple of years and today’s a difficult day, but, again, we committed to letting them know as soon as possible and we’ll support them during this transition.”
Verakis says the changes will allow the company to consolidate Maytag laundry plants in Newton, Illinois and Arkansas into Whirlpool factories in Ohio. About 2300 jobs will be lost in Newton with the closure of the plant and the administrative offices. “We are working with local and state officials to reposition the properties there and look at opportunities that they might create jobs in the area but that’s obviously in the early stages right now and is uncertain at this time,” he says.
Verakis says today’s decision by Whirlpool will not affect the company’s eastern Iowa plant. “We’ve not made any announcements today about the Amana factory,” Verakis says. About 2500 people are employed at that Amana plant. Another 100 work at a distribution center in North Liberty that is not affected by today’s announcement either.
Newton Mayor Chaz Allen spoke with Radio Iowa shortly after eight o’clock this morning. “It’s not really a surprise. It is a disappointment, of course,” Allen says. “We’ve worked very hard in the retention phase of this and now we’re just going to transition right into the transition to ensure those who are affected can get right back in the workforce.”
Newton’s mayor says now that there’s a timeline for the long-rumored shut-down of Maytag operations in Newton, the focus now will be on getting a buyer for the Maytag facilities. Allen says they’ll call a consultant in to determine what Whirlpool might be able to use the facilities for, or what the company might sell it for.
Maytag was founded in Newton in 1893 and today’s announcement spells the end of that history, but Allen is upbeat about prospects for the town. “For the past several years, we’ve done nothing but work on diversifying our economy,” Allen says. “To make sure we had people working at different places, not just Maytag.”
State Representative Paul Bell of Newton says it’s good to have some finality after so much uncertainty about Maytag. “I was disappointed by the decision by Whirlpool but after that, I guess I have to move on,” Bell says. “First and foremost in my mind are the workers and their families.”
Kim Didier, executive director of the Newton Development Corporation, says she’s “clearly” disappointed by today’s announcement. “We had been working very diligently and trying to retain as many of those jobs as possible,” Didier says. “Nevertheless, we clearly understood that an announcement like today’s was possible given the global marketplace and the competitiveness of the appliance industry.”
She says the job losses won’t be felt in Newton alone because Maytag has been a “regional” employer. Didier says Maytag employees came from Des Moines, Pella, Grinnell and even as far away as Cedar Rapids.
Administrative offices in Newton will close by the end of this year and the manufacturing plant will close by the fall of 2007. Didier says every effort was made to keep those jobs, but plans had already been laid to find new jobs for Maytag workers. “First and foremost, we’re focusing on our residents and our families,” she says. “We have always recognized that they are the most valuable assets to retain in this transition. Essentially, they are our brain trust and our ability to retain them as a part of our community is going to the key to be a stronger and economically more diverse Newton.”
Maytag’s physical “assets” — the plant and the administrative offices — will be marketable, according to Didier. “We think that there are many existing and new businesses that will see the value in these facilities and the ability to really move in them in kind of a turn-key fashion because they’re already in the condition to move right in and start a call center or other office and administrative businesses.”
Governor Tom Vilsack will speak at an 11 o’clock news conference at the Newton City Hall. In a prepared statement issued shortly after eight o’clock this morning, the governor said he was “profoundly disappointed” to learn Whirlpool will end production at the Newton plant in late 2007. Vilsack said “the loss of jobs in Newton “will be not easy to swallow.”
Sources tell Radio Iowa that Vilsack will call for a 10 million-dollar package of state incentives for other businesses in the Newton area to try to ensure Maytag workers find other jobs in and around Newton.