Officials with the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) have begun the process of sending site location consultants “building profile” info about Whirlpool’s soon-to-be closed plant in Fort Smith on the heels of a new facility opening in Tennessee.
Whirlpool announced Oct. 27, 2011, it would close the large Fort Smith plant that produces refrigerators and has also produced ice-makers and trash compactors.
The plant closure, expected by mid-2012, will mark the end of more than 45 years of Whirlpool operations in Fort Smith. The closure also will result in the loss of 1,000 existing jobs. However, Whirlpool’s Fort Smith plant employed more than 4,500 in early 2006. The loss of the about 1,000 Whirlpool jobs in Fort Smith will result in the overall loss of 1,550 jobs and a labor income reduction of $56.9 million.
Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle is the global “real estate services” company hired to promote and sell the about 2 million square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space that has a replacement cost of about $111.6 million.
Scott Miller, a managing director with Jones Lang LaSalle, has said the Whirlpool facility and location in the U.S. may make it easier to sell than some may think. He said the facility is in decent condition, has high ceilings, features numerous overhead doors and docks and has rail access “with good linkage” to major rail lines.
The company recently gave the OK to begin using a “building profile” brochure as part of the effort to market the Whirlpool building, said Tim Allen, chief operating officer for the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Allen said he sent the brochure to “more than 50 consultants” on April 4.
“And I sent it to the AEDC for their networks. We’re pushing it out to our network at the state level and here at the chamber,” Allen explained.
For projects that come to the AEDC requesting large buildings, Allen said the Whirlpool property “will definitely be at the top of that list.”
Allen and other officials also plan to promote the site at a Chicago conference later in April, and a similar conference held in Atlanta in late May.
Allen said most consultants and the officials at Jones Lang LaSalle believe the Whirlpool property has advantages, but will require a company with a special need.
“We all have the same perspective: It’s a neat building and it’s huge, but the pool of projects for this size is very small,” Allen said. “It’s going to be an interesting push on what kind of response we get from the business community.”
Ironically, the formal external push to market the Whirlpool property in Fort Smith comes just a few days before Whirlpool officials celebrated the opening of a modern manufacturing plant in Cleveland, Tenn. The company announced the expansion of the appliance production plant and engineering operation that employs more than 2,000. The investment replaces a 123-year-old facility.
Whirlpool’s investment is expected to reach $200 million for a 1 million-square-foot plant and an about 400,000-square-foot distribution center.
A question many in the Fort Smith area might have is, “Why not Fort Smith instead of Cleveland, Tenn.?”
“I don’t know, to be honest with you,” Allen said when asked the question. “My heart does say, ‘Why not here?’ But if you step back and look at it from a business perspective, you know that a larger population is closer on the East Coast. … And also it’s a completely different unit they make there. … And so you have to ask, ‘What would have been the cost to retool for that here (Fort Smith), and what kind of disruption to what was going on here?’ These things are often more complex, and if you consider the timing of where they (Whirlpool officials) were with those decisions, you see that (complexity).”
Michael Tilley with our content partner, The City Wire, is the author of this report. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.