General Electric Co. on Monday selected Louisville for production of new energy-efficient washers and dryers in a venture expected to create more than 400 jobs, building on momentum for a sprawling operation whose future seemed in jeopardy just last year.
GE officials released plans to increase production at Appliance Park starting in 2012, backed by tens of millions in GE investment. GE executive Dirk Bowman also praised earlier wage concessions by Appliance Park union workers and offers of incentives from state and local governments.
Earlier this year, the 900-acre Appliance Park was tabbed by GE for production of hybrid electric water heaters, starting in mid-2011.
"This is a huge sign of confidence, not just in our economy but also in Louisville and in the entire Commonwealth," Gov. Steve Beshear said at a news conference Monday at Appliance Park.
"And it will have a significant impact on the employment picture in the whole region."
Production of the new high-end, front-load washers and dryers _ coupled with plans to make appliance components _ will result in more than 430 new jobs at the Louisville operation, said Bowman, the company's general manager of appliance manufacturing.
Combined with the new water heater production, the work force will increase by about 830 at an operation where employment has fallen from a peak of nearly 23,000 in the 1970s to about 4,100 now.
Just over 18 months ago, Appliance Park's future was doubted when GE said it planned to sell or spin off its appliance business. The Fairfield, Conn.-based company seems to have backed off those plans, and now intends to infuse big money into the Louisville complex.
"Now we go from a year and a half ago wondering whether there would be a facility here to standing up today and capping off 830 job announcements with millions and millions of dollars of investment," Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson said.
New washing-machine production is scheduled to start in the third quarter of 2012, with new dryer production to follow a year later, GE said.
The machines will use smart-grid technology that allows them to communicate with "utility smart meters" to reduce energy demand during peak usage, the company said. It will allow consumers to control energy consumption and save money in areas where time-of-use pricing is in effect, GE said.
Appliance Park opened in 1953 and for decades was a major cog in the local and state economy. The operation is so big it has its own ZIP code.
The latest GE announcement comes as Kentucky struggles with double-digit unemployment.
Jerry Carney, president of Local 761 of the IUE-CWA union, which represents hourly workers at Appliance Park, said the announcement means job security.
"That shows that we've got a future out here at Appliance Park," Carney said.
Union workers earlier this year accepted a wage freeze and lower starting pay for new employees in a deal with the company aimed at protecting jobs. Carney said hourly workers are paid an average $20.20 per hour, while new employees will start out at $13 an hour.
Meanwhile, Beshear said a proposal was put together in recent days to sweeten an incentives package originally stemming from GE's investment in water heater production in Louisville.
An amended state incentives package totaling $21.5 million is expected to come up next month before the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority.
"This project will pay for itself many times," Beshear said.
Louisville metro officials will push to double the local incentives package for GE to $5 million.
GE officials said the company intends to invest more than $80 million in the new high-end washers and dryers, along with plans to manufacture certain appliance components.