GE to expand in Louisville

LOUISVILLE — General Electric Co. on Monday selected Louisville to produce a new line of energy-efficient washers and dryers in a venture expected to deliver more than 400 jobs to its sprawling Appliance Park operation, whose future seemed in jeopardy just a year and a half ago.

The announcement builds on momentum for the 900-acre Appliance Park, which found out earlier this year that it will produce hybrid electric water heaters starting in mid-2011.

The combined production expansions will raise the work force by more than 800 at an operation where employment has fallen from a peak of nearly 23,000 in the 1970s to about 4,100.

"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 at Appliance Park. "And it will have a significant impact on the employment picture in the whole region."

Production of the new washing machines is scheduled to start in the third quarter of 2012, with the new dryer production slated to follow a year later, GE said.

The new washers and dryers will use technology enabling the appliances to communicate with "utility smart meters" to help reduce energy demand during peak usage, the company said.

A little more than 18 months ago, Appliance Park's future was in doubt when GE said it planned to sell or spin off its appliance business. The company, based in Fairfield, Conn., later backed off those plans.

"The future of GE in Louisville, which once was in jeopardy, is now very bright," Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson 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 postal ZIP code.

The 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 of new production lines in 2012 and 2013 means job security.

"That shows that we've got a future out here at Appliance Park, something that we didn't think we were going to have just a year ago," Carney said.

Beshear said the state will move to sweeten an incentives package originally stemming from GE's investment in water heater production in Louisville.

The governor said the state Cabinet for Economic Development will push for an amended state incentives package totaling $21.5 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.