ILPEA may close Fort Smith plant

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 519 views 

The more than 40 jobs at ILPEA in Fort Smith could soon represent additional fallout from the closure of Whirlpool’s Fort Smith refrigerator manufacturing plant.

ILPEA, which makes gaskets and other rubber sealers, has operated in Fort Smith under various owners since 1967. The company’s primary customer is Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp.

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 Whirlpool closure will result in the loss of 917 jobs. However, Whirlpool’s Fort Smith plant employed more than 4,500 in early 2006.

Whirlpool announced April 27 that it will close its Fort Smith doors on June 29.

Stuart O’Neal, president of Local United Steel Workers 496, said ILPEA officials notified the workers on Monday of plans to close the operation. O’Neal said 34 hourly jobs will be lost and possibly seven salaried jobs lost if the plant closes.

“They said they would start the plant closing on July 13. … We should be finished Oct. 1, of 2012,” O’Neal told The City Wire.

O’Neal said the union is hoping to submit a proposal to ILPEA with the hope of keeping the plant open. The plan could include wage and benefit concession and productivity plans, along with the possible expansion of the company’s housing-related products, O’Neal explained. Union officials await info from ILPEA to use in their proposal.

“That (ILPEA input) will allow us to put together some kind of package that is substantial enough to avoid a plant closing,” O’Neal said.

If the plant does close in October, it will join Fortis Plastics, Huntington Foam, Southern Steel & Wire and other Whirlpool vendors who have closed Fort Smith operations.

The loss of the about 1,000 Whirlpool jobs in Fort Smith was estimated to result in the overall loss of 1,550 jobs and a labor income reduction of $56.9 million, according to a University of Arkansas at Little Rock study. The total job loss impact based on the highest level of Whirlpool employment in Fort Smith is estimated at 5,422.

Of the 472 non-Whirlpool jobs estimated to be lost in the Fort Smith region as a result of Whirlpool’s closure, 300 are estimated to come from Whirlpool vendors.

Also, the ILPEA plant closure won’t help any attempts to reverse employment trends in the area’s manufacturing sector.

Fort Smith’s manufacturing sector employed an estimated 18,500 in March, below the 18,800 in February, and below the 20,700 during March 2011. Employment in the sector is down more than 39.7% from more than a decade ago when January 2001 manufacturing employment in the metro area stood at 30,700.

ILPEA Industries, which emerged from a company formed in 1978, was formed in 2001 when the largest manufacturer of refrigeration gaskets in North America merged with Ilpea, S.p.A, the largest manufacturer of refrigeration gaskets in Europe. According to its website, ILPEA makes products for more than 1,500 customers in the home appliance, commercial refrigeration, industrial and automotive industries. The company operates in 12 countries with 30 plants.