Trane closing Fort Smith plant to ‘optimize manufacturing footprint,’ 250 jobs to be lost (Updated)

by Aric Mitchell (aric.mitchell@gmail.com) 1,559 views 

Editor’s note: Story updated with additions and changes throughout.
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Trane announced Monday (Feb. 13) it will end its manufacturing operation in Fort Smith, a move that will result in the loss of 250 jobs.

According to an official statement from the company, “The decision to transfer the Trane residential heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) manufacturing facility in Fort Smith, Arkansas to four other U.S. facilities was made after a strategic review of the business operations. By moving operations to other U.S. facilities, Trane is optimizing its manufacturing footprint, which is required to remain competitive in today’s environment.”

Facilities in Lynn Haven, Fla.; Columbia, S.C.; Vidalia, Ga.; and Tyler, Tx., will assume manufacturing of the residential and light commercial air conditioning products produced in Fort Smith.

“Manufacturing operations at the Trane Commercial HVAC plant, also located in Fort Smith, Arkansas, will continue,” the statement added.

Talk Business & Politics reached out to the North Carolina-based Trane spokesperson Paige Muhlenkamp via phone to inquire how many employees would be affected and whether there would be any long term plans to close the facility altogether. Talk Business & Politics had received information that all but sheet metal operations will be gone by April and then sheet metal will shut down by September.

Muhlenkamp provided this written statement: “The Trane residential heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) manufacturing facility in Fort Smith, Arkansas at 4811 S. Zero Street, Fort Smith, AR 72903 will transfer manufacturing to four other U.S. facilities in a series of phases that will conclude by the beginning of the third quarter. The residential Trane plant employs approximately 250 employees.”

In 2010, Trane laid off more than 200 at its Fort Smith facility, but four years later, the company touted its resurgence. Then-plant manager Chris Farnsworth told Talk Business & Politics the company had secured a new labor contract in March 2013 and with it, restored many of the positions lost from the previous layoff (approximately 197 hourly production workers and 15 salaried positions). Trane employed as many as 500 as of late 2009.

Trane’s commercial manufacturing plant at Aire Circle in Fort Smith (off the landfill road) is not part of the consolidation announced Monday.

Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tim Allen issued this statement to Talk Business & Politics: “While today’s Trane announcement is certainly disappointing, the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce is optimistic about the progress that the region has experienced in the past few years.”

The action by Trane is the first major plant closure in Fort Smith since Whirlpool Corp. closed its Fort Smith refrigerator plant in June 2012. Whirlpool at the time employed 1,000, although the company’s Fort Smith employment reached 4,500 in 2006.

The Fort Smith regional manufacturing sector has seen a steady decline since Whirlpool began slowing production in 2006. Average annual sector employment in 2006 was 27,500, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sector employment fell to an annual average of 20,700 by 2010 and posted an average of 17,800 in 2015. Sector employment was 17,800 in December 2016. The annual peak for sector employment was 30,600 in 1999.

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