Rheem layoffs not a sign of departure

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 270 views 

Rheem Manufacturing laid off 16 salaried jobs at its Fort Smith plant and a distribution center in Lewisville, Texas, on Thursday (May 24), but a company official says the move is not an indication the Fort Smith plant and its production is going away any time soon.

The company will now have 290 salaried and 900 hourly workers in Fort Smith, a reduction from the 300 salaried and 1,100 hourly as of June 2011.

John Anthony, director of human resources for Rheem’s Air Conditioning Division, said Rheem continues to invest in Fort Smith and has no plans to leave.

“We do not have plans to close the Fort Smith plant. Fort Smith employees have produced quality products for Rheem since 1970. We appreciate their hard work and dedication to our customers,” Anthony noted in a statement. “Further, the Fort Smith plant continues to be a key manufacturing facility in our global business plan. While we cannot make promises or guarantees in these uncertain economic times, we continue to invest in capital improvements for the future of the Fort Smith plant.”

A region nervous about the future of its manufacturing sector — especially with Whirlpool leaving Fort Smith in June — has closely watched Rheem, now likely the largest manufacturer in the city. Whirlpool, which once employed 4,600, will shut the doors on about 1,000 jobs when it ceases operations in June.

That anxiety rose in June 2011 when Rheem announced the company would move 250 jobs from Fort Smith to an expanded manufacturing plant in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, during a phased plan expected to last three years.

Jobs in the Fort Smith metro manufacturing sector are down more than 39.7% from more than a decade ago when January 2001 metro manufacturing employment stood at 30,700. The regional manufacturing sector employed an estimated 18,900 in April, above the 18,600 in March, and below the 20,500 during April 2011.

Rheem is based in Atlanta, with manufacturing plants in Fort Smith, Montgomery, Ala.; Oxnard, Calif.; and Eagan, Minn.; and a parts distribution center in Randleman, N.C. In 1987, Rheem became a wholly owned subsidiary of Paloma Industries of Nagoya, Japan, the world's largest producer of gas appliances.

The company manufactures residential and commercial heating and cooling systems; tank, tankless, solar and hybrid heat pump water heaters; whole-home standby generators, controls, swimming pool and spa heaters; indoor air-purification products; and commercial boilers throughout North America and world markets. The company’s premium brands, including Raypak, Ruud and Rheem.