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Whirlpool To Lay Off 700 At Arkansas Plant

Decline in demand and rising costs for materials have forced the company to reduce the number of employees at a factory in Fort Smith.

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) -- Whirlpool says it will lay off another 700 workers from its factory at Fort Smith.

The company said Monday that the layoffs would be effective in November and there is no timetable for calling the workers back.

The company had more than 4,000 workers in Fort Smith before opening a plant in Mexico that also makes refrigerators. Prior to Monday's announcement, the plant had about 2,000 workers.

Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool says that a decline in demand and rising costs for materials have forced the company to reduce its number of employees. The company says the changes are necessary to maintain competitiveness.

"Like many manufacturers, we are facing a marketplace filled with unprecedented challenges, including lower demand levels, significant and unrelenting increases in the costs of steel, oil and other materials used to make and deliver our products," said Alan Holaday, a Whirlpool vice president. "These workforce adjustments, while difficult for our employees and their families, are necessary to remain competitive in the global marketplace."

In February, when Whirlpool announced a plant closing in La Vergne, Tenn., the company said work from that plant would move to Fort Smith, where it planned to add 250 jobs.

In 2006, Whirlpool announced it would move part of its Fort Smith production to Mexico. Once production was reduced, local suppliers to the plant also saw business shrink.

Despite the cuts at Whirlpool, Fort Smith's manufacturing base has been growing. In July, three manufacturers announced they would either add workers or expand facilities. That includes cabinet maker QualServ Corp., which is adding more than 100 jobs by expanding a plant and moving its headquarters to the city.

Pradco Fishing is consolidating three local sites in a new $21 million plant where it will produce its fishing lures. Airgun maker Umarex USA is doubling its plant size to 65,000 square feet and will expand from 22 workers to between 60 and 120 employees within three years.

None of those businesses are as big as the Whirlpool plant, but Baldor Electric Co. has been expanding and now has about 1,500 local workers, and 8,000 overall.

Whirlpool, with $19 billion in annual sales, has more than 73,000 employees at more than 70 manufacturing plants and other centers worldwide.

Shares of Whirlpool fell 14 cents to $87.42 in afternoon trading.

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