Grad student researching Whirlpool impact

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]tywire.com) 31 views 

Leslie Hassel plans to be in the Fort Smith area several days during the fall 2012 semester to gather oral histories and other information for what she hopes will be an accepted thesis on the impact of globalization in the U.S. South.

With the closure of Whirlpool’s refrigeration manufacturing plant in Fort Smith and concerns about the future of Trane and Rheem operations in Fort Smith, she is betting on a broad collection of research and anecdotal evidence.

Hassel, a graduate student at the University of Mississippi, is from northern Pope County (Arkansas) and is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. She’s familiar with the region and, unfortunately, says the manufacturing history will help with her overall research on the short- and long-term effects of job losses in the sector.

“The more I research, the bigger it (scope) gets,” Hassel said. “The economic impact, the housing effect, there is just a lot to pull in.”

Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool announced in October 2011 announced it would close its refrigeration production plant in Fort Smith. The move resulted in about 1,000 lost jobs when the plant closed in June. However, Whirlpool, which employed more than 4,500 at the Fort Smith plant in 2006, moved production out of the plant for several years prior to the closing.

The loss of the about 1,000 Whirlpool jobs in Fort Smith will result in the overall statewide loss of almost 1,550 jobs and a labor income reduction of $61.15 million, according to an economic impact model prepared by Gregory Hamilton, senior research economist at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, for The City Wire.

Hassel said she may include Hamilton’s research for The City Wire in her report, to include the loss of Whirlpool jobs when the plant employed at least 4,500 in early 2006. Hamilton’s model shows that the loss of at least 3,500 jobs since 2006 has reduced overall employment in the region by 5,141.8 jobs, and created an annual labor income reduction of $199.118 million.

Most of her initial research will come from interviews with people and families impacted by Whirlpool’s decision to move most of the production out of the U.S.

She has interviewed a lady who suffers from carpal tunnel and other medical issues related to her many years of working on the Whirlpool assembly line in Fort Smith.

“She’s terrified at having to start over at 60 (years old),” Hassel said.

Hassel also plans to interview a former employee of a company in Russellville that was a supplier to Whirlpool’s Fort Smith plant.

The common theme in the interviews is the uncertainty and disruption caused by the Whirlpool decision, Hassel said.

“It really saddens me. These people, many of them, invested their lives in this company and now it’s just gone,” Hassel said.

Hassel’s research also includes the loss of jobs and potential loss of more jobs at the Fort Smith manufacturing operations of Trane and Rheem.

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