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Whirlpool Says It Will Replace St. Joe Plants With Waterfront Resort Project

December 16, 1986

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (AP) _ Whirlpool Corp.’s plan for a $70 million marina and hotel complex here is just more bad news for 1,000 Whirlpool workers facing the loss of their jobs, a union official says.

Employees had hoped that a manufacturing operation would take over the waterfront property now occupied by four Whirlpool plants slated for shutdown, said Keith Craig, president of International Association of Machinists Local 1918.

Benton Harbor-based Whirlpool said Monday it would build a $25 million product engineering headquarters on the site on Lake Michigan and seek developers to turn the rest of the property into a tourist and boating complex.

″As far as the normal worker, this doesn’t offer much,″ said Craig.

Community leaders, however, hailed the project as the potential catalyst for a tourist boom.

″It took all the sting out″ of the plant closings, said Mayor Frank Smith. ″I was so excited I was tingling, very frankly.″

Jack D. Sparks, chief executive officer and board chairman of Whirlpool, said the project could be completed in five years and create 800 jobs.

″Whirlpool, of course, will not become a resort operator,″ Sparks told a news conference Monday. ″But we will try to combine our land resources with viable development concerns that will enhance the area and address current and future needs.″

Whirlpool announced in August that it would close the four plants in its St. Joseph Division. Those closings, along with local layoffs announced earlier, will result in 1,050 lost jobs.

The closings are to be completed by mid-1988, with operations to be moved to Whirlpool plants in Ohio, South Carolina and Canada. Whirlpool has said that the shutdowns were necessary because of the plants’ high fixed costs and excess capacity.

Alex Little, economic development director in neighboring Benton Harbor, said the project could pay greater economic dividends for the region than the Whirlpool plants.

″We’re thrilled about it,″ he said.

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