Whirlpool Corporation: Neglect pays off

One solution to joblessness in the US is a scheme where giant corporations create workplaces for local communities. They are even handed government money to that end – but somehow, jobs still get outsourced to a cheaper foreign workforce.

­This allows big businesses to prosper, while small towns suffer.

In one of America’s most economically depressed cities resides the world’s largest producer of home appliances. Whirlpool Corporation is headquartered in Benton Harbor, Michigan, where 60 per cent are unemployed, 90 per cent live in poverty, and per capita annual income is roughly US $10,000.

“The citizens of Benton Harbor are living from one day to the next,” local resident and business owner Scott Elliot told RT. “They’re very poor and they’re very disheartened. There’s been very little effort on the part of Whirlpool, that runs everything, to try to involve the community.”

In 2009, Whirlpool received a US $19.3 million grant from the federal government – in part, to create jobs.

“I think our workforce, the US workforce if you will, is among the best in the world,” said Whirlpool’s chairman and CEO, Jeff Fettig. “So we are very confident in US manufacturing for our products."

One year later, the corporation received nearly US $20 million dollars from the state of Michigan to expand its facility, which now serves as a gateway into Benton Harbor.

“It's good for the community, good for the state and good for business as well. And I tell you, there's a real art to that," said Jeffrey Noel, a Corporate VP Communications and Public Affairs of Whirlpool Corporation.

But as the US-based corporation has grown globally, more jobs have been outsourced to countries demanding less wages. Today, the former blue-collar community of Benton Harbor remains a victim of America’s  de-industrialization and growing poor population.

Whirlpool has 71,000 employees around the globe, but no longer manufactures home products in its hometown. However, it still remains a recipient of state and federal stimulus funding.

“Whirlpool just closed a factory, and that hurt my business, my little business. I lost a lot of clients,” says Mary Alice Adams, who runs a hair salon in Benton Harbor. “This is their home base and it always has been, and in the beginning of the large development they promised us that they would always be.”

Due to the recession, the corporate behemoth of home appliances has not paid US income tax since 2008.  By 2010, nearly 99 per cent of Benton Harbor residents were receiving food stamps, while Whirlpool reportedly banked more than US $18 billion in global annual sales.

“I think I’ve purchased my last Whirlpool appliance,” Mary Alice Adams told RT. “I don’t think I’ll even call for a repair, because too often and for too long those who have gotten rich have forgotten who has helped them to get there. And they’re willing to step on us and that just doesn’t sit well with my soul.”