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Appliance maker to expand Ottawa plant

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OTTAWA, Ohio - With state financial assistance approved Monday, Whirlpool Corp. said it will proceed with a $4.4 million project to expand a formerly closed and bankrupt freezer manufacturing plant in this Putnam County village, potentially creating nearly 200 more jobs.

Whirlpool purchased the 500,000-square-foot factory in December, shortly after it was closed by W.C. Wood Corp. Inc. of Guelph, Ont., which went into receivership.

The Michigan-based appliance maker called back about 125 employees and restarted production of chest freezers on Jan. 18 but promised employment for only about three months.

The company since has decided to keep the factory operating, making its Whirlpool-brand freezers. It said in a statement it will expand employment to 190 this year and up to as many as 324 by the end of 2011, depending on demand.

Under W.C. Wood, the Ottawa plant had as many as 215 employees.

"This is just good news," said Jeff Loehrke, economic development director for the village of Ottawa. "[W.C. Wood] was here for almost 20 years. The village of Ottawa and the state will continue to work with Whirlpool to make this a success and keep Whirlpool making freezers here."

The plant is in a county with an 11.7 percent unemployment rate, with 2,200 people out of work. Putnam County has taken big hits in manufacturing in years past, including losing a television-picture-tube plant that had more than 1,200 employees.

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Whirlpool officials did not return calls for comment.

But in a written statement, the firm said the Ottawa facility "has the potential to produce freezers under our leading portfolio of brands at globally competitive cost and quality levels."

A spokesman said the company was committed, after the state assistance approval, "to an incremental [additional] 134 jobs over a three-year period," on top of the 190 to be employed this year.

The Ohio Tax Credit Authority in Columbus approved a job tax credit yesterday worth $821,000 over seven years for the project.

Mr. Loehrke, the village's economic development coordinator, said Whirlpool moved equipment to Ottawa from W.C. Wood's factory in Guelph to ramp up production locally after Whirlpool determined the facility met its internal quality and productivity measurements.

Whirlpool employs about 10,000 people in Ohio, making the state the company's largest manufacturing center for appliances in the United States.

The Benton Harbor, Mich.-based company makes washing machines in Clyde and dishwashers in Findlay.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.

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