Maybe the recent gains in the manufacturing sector are courtesy of employment gains at Whirlpool’s Fort Smith plant.
Whirlpool spokeswoman Jill Saletta confirmed that the refrigerator production plant has 1,930 hourly employees, which could put total employment at the plant near 2,200.
Less than a year ago the plant employed between 1,000-1,300. Also, some of those jobs were temporary in that Whirlpool said a shift cut planned for August 2010 could cut 400 jobs.
The future of Whirlpool’s Fort Smith refrigerator-production plant has been a cause for concern following the November 2003 announcement by Whirlpool of a global reorganization plan. The news since November 2003 has been troubling, with Whirlpool announcing numerous production cuts and layoffs that has seen employment in Fort Smith drop from about 4,600 in early 2006 to around as high as 1,300 by the end of 2009.
The Benton Harbor, Mich.-based global appliance maker recently reported earnings that were better than expected. The company also boosted its future earnings guidance. More importantly for the Fort Smith area, Whirlpool raised its expectation of increased unit shipments in 2010 from a 2%-4% range to a 3%-5% range. Overall, the company raised its per share full-year earnings outlook from the $6.50-$7 range to the $8-$8.50 range.
There may also be temporary good news related to the planned shift cut in August.
“We announced to employees earlier in the year that the second shift would likely extend beyond the August time frame, and have just recently told them that it could extend through to the end of the year,” Saletta noted in an e-mail to The City Wire.
Fort Smith’s metro area unemployment rate declined in March to 8.3%, but remains as one of the highest rates among Arkansas’ metro areas and has topped 8% for four consecutive months. The positive news was that manufacturing jobs in the region have held steady. The March report shows 21,500 metro manufacturing jobs, the third straight month of job increases in the sector. The January report listed 21,300 jobs and the February report listed 21,400 jobs.