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Home appliance manufacturing coming back home?

  The American appliance manufacturing industry seems to be slowly making its way back home. Kentucky is the lucky recipient of a $250 million investment from GE Appliance at Louisville’s Appliance Park, the second GE facility to open within a month, and the first new plants at the Park in more than 50 years. Kentucky’s Governor Steve Beshear was jumping for joy as he hosted the grand opening of the new factory on March 20, which will support 600 jobs. This latest expansion will produce GE’s bottom freezer, French door refrigerators.

The American appliance manufacturing industry seems to be slowly making its way back home. Kentucky is the lucky recipient of a $250 million investment from GE Appliance at Louisville’s Appliance Park, the second GE facility to open within a month, and the first new plants at the Park in more than 50 years. Kentucky’s Governor Steve Beshear was jumping for joy as he hosted the grand opening of the new factory on March 20, which will support 600 jobs. This latest expansion will produce GE’s bottom freezer, French door refrigerators.

This comes on the heels of February’s grand opening of its GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater manufacturing facility at Appliance Park. That facility was a $38 million investment and will support 1000 new jobs. Said a happy Gov. Beshear, “GE’s continued investment in its Louisville manufacturing facility will help create jobs and drive economic growth for the surrounding community. They have been a great partner in helping showcase to the rest of the world that Kentucky is a great place to do business.”

Comments from Rep. Tom Burch of Louisville were a bit more tempered. “I’m glad to see GE is bringing back new products to Appliance Park. At one time we had about 23,000 people working there. I know we won’t get back to that level, but I’m grateful we’re able to help GE retool for the future and provide good jobs. It’s a great place to work, I know because I spent 39 years there.” 

That could be the reason that while he, like most states begging for a return of manufacturing to boost their economies, is grateful for whatever comes their way. But Burch is also cautiously optimistic. 

Whirlpool Corp., another major appliance maker that gobbled up a number of competitors over the past decade like a Pacman game, got its way with the U.S. Department of Commerce.  After whining for a year about its competitors illegally “dumping” their foreign-made appliances in the U.S. (see my Nov. 4 blog) the Commerce Department found that Samsung Electronics Co., LG Electronics Inc., and AB Electrolux and other smaller brands were indeed “dumping” some of their products (bottom-mount refrigerators from South Korea, for example) by selling them at less than fair market value. 

Now the case goes back to the U.S. International Trade Commission, which is scheduled to make its final ruling by April 30. The companies may face higher tariffs as a result of the recent decision. In its final determination, the Commerce Department found company-specific dumping margins for Samsung (5.16%) and LG (15.9%), both in South Korea. Four Mexican producers including LG (30.34%), Samsung (15.95%), Mabe (6.0%) and Electrolux (22.94%) were also found to be in violation of trade laws with respect to dumping.

Whirlpool is happy. “As the world’s leading home appliance maker, we are taking a stand with these petitions to protect our 23,000 U.S. employees who produce the innovative and high-quality products that consumers demand,” said Mark Bitzer, president, Whirlpool North America. “We are pleased with the Department of Commerce’s decision.”

What I said in my Nov. 4 PlasticsToday blog still stands. 

However, a few of the molders who are still producing components for the appliance market are optimistic that major appliance makers might be having a change of heart. “Manufacturing is picking up and a reshoring of appliance manufacturing is taking place,” said Jack Shedd, VP of business development for Hoffer Plastics Corp., which serves the appliance market among others. “Whirlpool is moving its KitchenAid small appliance manufacturing to Greenville, Ohio. They will still import motors and other items but the plastics will be retooled here.”

But of course with so much molding work having been pulled from custom molders in the U.S. and sent to Mexico, resulting in some molders shutting down, Shedd predicts a “capacity issue in the marketplace if things keep moving in the direction they are going.”

I’m certainly happy to see that Whirlpool has found a new care and concern for its 23,000 U.S. employees. Whirlpool notes in its release on the matter, that the Whirlpool products affected by this case are made in Amana, Iowa, where Whirlpool employs approximately 2200 people. So, their jobs are safe for now. 

Let’s hope Whirlpool and GE Appliances both stay the course and bring jobs back to the U.S. After all, I’ve always heard that “you should dance with the one that brung ya!”

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