Whirlpool Corp.'s Fort Smith, AR, U.S. plant has added 250 workers to a third shift in the production of the company's new counter-depth refrigerator units.
Recruited through an employment agency but directly employed by the appliance maker, the new third-shift employees began Oct. 3, bringing total employment at the plant to about 4,600, said Mona Mendoza, Whirlpool spokeswoman.
Ms. Mendoza said Whirlpool is "responding to customer demand." Production of the counter-depth refrigerators began on the line in the spring, she said.
According to Chris Wyse, director of communications for Whirlpool in North America, the counter-depth models have been "well received by consumers and retailers this year." The added shift, Mr. Wyse stressed, isn't necessarily related to any effort to save jobs at the plant.
Whirlpool announced in fall 2003 that some side-by-side refrigerator production will move to a plant in Mexico. The company is expected to disclose in early 2005 how much production will move and how many jobs will be affected.
"The reality here is we are a business that is all about caring for our customers in the marketplace," he said. "When demand is at the level that it is at and we need to produce more units to meet that demand, then we are going to do that. That's what that is about."
Demand has been high. According to the company's recent 10-Q filing with the U.S. federal Securities and Exchange Commission, unit sales for the first 9 months of fiscal year 2004 increased 6.5 percent over the same period in 2003. Unit sales during the company's fiscal third quarter -- the 3 months ended June 30 -- of 2004 increased 9 percent compared to the same quarter in 2003.
What has made the new models so popular are a number of features the consumer has been looking for in a refrigerator, Mr. Wyse said. The counter-depth model is the same depth as standard cabinets and countertops in most new kitchens. It also frees up freezer space by building the icemaker into the freezer door and has water-filtration capabilities.
The refrigerators are sold under the Whirlpool and KitchenAid brand names. (Times Record)
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