GE dropped planned investment in Bloomington factory

A southern Indiana refrigerator factory where 160 jobs are now being cut never saw its $161 million investment GE Appliances officials announced three years ago.

The company had to drop the investment plan for the Bloomington factory because a drop in consumer demand for the side-by-side refrigerators made there, GE spokeswoman Kim Freeman told The Herald-Times.

"If we had a crystal ball and knew what the industry was going to do, we wouldn't have made that," Freeman said. "We had every intention of honoring our investments and commitments. But you can't ignore the fact that the industry has declined."

The company said last week it would cut nearly one-third of the factory's jobs because demand has fallen by more than 30 percent since 2010. That will leave the plant with about 360 employees.

In 2010, GE announced it planned to spend $93 million to make the Bloomington plant a "center of excellence" for side-by-side refrigerator manufacturing and $68 million for product-line redesigns and other changes.

Those plans also included the prospect for 200 more jobs — a big change from two years earlier when GE had said it would close the factory. The plant's union agreed in 2010 to a wage freeze and a lower pay structure for new employees.

GE also made an agreement with state officials to receive $2.25 million in performance-based tax credits.

The plant was supposed to start making a new model this year that would've increased production from 128,000 units a year to between 300,000 and 350,000 units a year, said Carven Thomas, president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2249.

"You have this proven product sitting here needing investment money," Thomas said. "In 2013 we were scheduled to launch a new product, which would have given us volume. But the company called off that launch. That was one of those moves that perplexed me. I didn't understand that."

Thomas said he questioned what the Bloomington plant's production volume would be if GE didn't make side-by-side refrigerators at a factory in Mexico.

GE forecasts about 35 percent of the new job cuts will come from employees taking early retirement. Laid-off employees' last day will be Oct. 31.

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