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Published: Tuesday, 11/11/2003

Whirlpool reverses offshore trend


In a rare U-turn for a U.S. manufacturer, said yesterday it has stopped making top-loading washing machines in Mexico and has moved the production to Clyde, Ohio.

The development, which took place in recent months, is part of an effort by the Benton Harbor, Mich., appliance manufacturer to make optimum use of its factories worldwide. The effort included $100 million in improvements at U.S. plants, although a company spokesman wouldn t say how much of that, if any, was in Clyde or at a dishwasher plant in nearby Findlay.

No jobs were created by either northwest Ohio move. And the number of washing machines previously made in Mexico isn t huge because the “vast majority” of those sold in the United States, Canada, and Mexico were produced in Clyde, Whirlpool spokesman Christopher Wyse said.

Still, economic development officials in Clyde are interpreting the move as a vote of confidence by Whirlpool executives.

“I m not surprised by it,” said Kay Reiter, executive director of the Sandusky County Economic Development Corp. Company officials recently conducted a productivity review in Clyde. And reports are that, after temporary layoffs in early 2002, employees have been putting in heavy overtime, she added. The Whirlpool plant is Clyde s largest employer, with 3,000 workers.

Whirlpool said it has increased dishwasher production in Findlay in response to heightened demand. The boost occurs just seven months after the plant, which employs 2,000, announced the temporary layoff of 15 percent of its workforce because of slack demand.

The Mexico plant that produced top-loading machines now made in Clyde is being redesigned to prepare it for production of a new “laundry” product to be announced in 2005. Mr. Wyse, company spokesman, wouldn t say whether the new product will be a washing machine, nor would he provide other details. The Mexico plant is in Monterrey.

Last year Whirlpool acquired the remaining 59 percent of Vitromatic SA de CV, a joint venture with Vitro SA. The operation, which has $600 million in annual sales and produces a third of all appliances sold in Mexico, is called Whirlpool Mexico.

The company said it plans to make a new-generation side-by-side refrigerator at a new plant in Mexico starting in 2005. Some refrigerators made in Fort Smith, Ark., will be made in Mexico, officials added.

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