Making it in America again: The story of Appliance Park
Appliance Park in Louisville, Kentucky was designed by General Electric and opened in 1951. The Park was built not just as a factory but as a city unto itself; it included a power plant, its own fire department, and traffic lights. The Park is so large that it actually has its own zip code (it's 40225).
At its height in 1973, Appliance Park employed 23,000 workers who made over 60,000 appliances a week. What followed in the years after 1973 resemble much of broader story of American manufacturing — employment tapered off through the ‘90s and dropped significantly between 2000 and 2010. Employment at Appliance Park hit an all-time low in 2011 at 1,863 employees.
Appliance Park had hit rock bottom. But instead of shutting down the factory, GE announced a $800 million investment. With the renewed belief that manufacturing could be done at a cost-effective rate, GE opened three new assembly lines over the last 18 months that produce cutting edge water heaters, refrigerators, and dishwashers.
But why did GE decide to start reshoring its appliance manufacturing? In the Alliance for American Manufacturing’s new book, ReMaking America, Harry Moser of the Reshoring Initiative explains the reasons that lead to GE’s decision.
1. The state of Kentucky provided tax incentives;
2. The redesign of appliances and improvements in production processes in the U.S.;
3. Increased collaboration between GE and its workers and their unions; and
4. A shrinking total cost of ownership: Chinese costs are lower initially, but when inventory and delivery issues are considered, American costs are lower.
While Appliance Park only employs about 8 percent of the 23,000 employees it had in 1973, it’s encouraging to see a renewed commitment and desire to make it in America. Successful reshoring examples will encourage other companies to bring manufacturing and jobs back to the U.S.
Read more about reshoring successes in Harry Moser’s chapter of Remaking America.
Image from Flickr user Chuck Miller, used following Creative Commons guidelines.
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