Whirlpool sells 1.2 million square foot shuttered plant in Fort Smith to Phoenix Investors

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]talkbusiness.net) 2,607 views 

Whirlpool Corp. has sold its 1.2 million square foot manufacturing plant in Fort Smith to Milwaukee, Wisc.-based Phoenix Investors. Whirlpool closed the refrigerator plant in June 2012, with most production being moved to Mexico.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Phoenix’s plans for the facility include collaborating with other logistics and distribution enterprises to offer a centrally located hub for several companies, according to a statement from the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. The deal is the first for Phoenix in Arkansas.

“We now have 1.2 million square feet of space that will actively attract jobs to the community instead of sitting unused,” Tim Allen, Chamber president and CEO, said in the statement. “Add to that a partner who shares our goal of growing and recruiting business and this is a big win for Fort Smith. Phoenix has a solid record of attracting quality tenants and rehabilitating large regional properties. The future for jobs and ancillary capital investment in Fort Smith is bright.”

Phoenix Investors has in recent years expanded its industrial property holdings in the Midwest and Southeastern United States focusing on properties between 200,000 and 2 million square feet. The company’s holdings is now more than 17 million square feet in 22 states.

“This acquisition is consistent with Phoenix’s strategy of acquiring industrial properties in need of capital improvements and/or repositioning, and applying our consistent metrics to maximize its potential,” said Gerry Norton, Director of Acquisitions and Leasing for Phoenix Investors.

Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool Corp. closed the refrigerator manufacturing plant in June 2012, which at the time employed about 1,000, but was home to more than 4,500 jobs at its peak.

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 Talk Business & Politics.

But the impact of Whirlpool jobs losses is deeper when considering the plant employed at least 4,500 in early 2006. Hamilton modeled the impact of Whirlpool jobs lost between early 2006 and today.The loss of at least 3,500 jobs since 2006 has reduced overall employment in the region by 5,141.8 jobs, and created a labor income reduction of $199.118 million. The 3,500 jobs lost also caused the estimated loss of 281 jobs outside the Fort Smith region, according to Hamilton’s report. The labor income lost statewide — including the Fort Smith region — from the lost jobs totals $214.026 million.

Later that year it was made public that trichloroethyclene – a cancer-causing chemical – was found in and around the plant. Whirlpool has been working to monitor and remove the chemicals, with oversight of the work handled by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. ADEQ issued its first remedial action plan December 2013. Although the building will be owned by Phoenix, Whirlpool will continue to be responsible for environmental remediation.

In October 2013, Spartan Logistics acquired a portion of Whirlpools’ large warehouse facility near the manufacturing plant. In 2014, Spartan bought the entire 619,508 square foot warehouse facility and about 54 acres it occupies. Terms of that acquisition was also kept private. Initial estimates were that the warehouse and manufacturing space had a replacement cost of $111.6 million.

Talk Business & Politics will update this story later today.

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