LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- In its first two years under Chinese giant Qingdao Haier Ltd., Louisville-based GE Appliances has grown its sales and profits while benefiting from the resources of one of the world’s biggest appliance makers, GE Appliances CEO Kevin Nolan said in an interview Wednesday.
But the company is still working to turn things around at its flagship Appliance Park factory in Louisville, which executives claimed was losing money as of 2016.
“We are improving at Appliance Park but we still have more to do,” Nolan said.
Nolan, a Louisville native who took over GE Appliances last year, spoke on the two-year anniversary of Haier’s $5.6 billion purchase of General Electric Co.’s appliance division.
In addition to Appliance Park, where about 3,600 union workers make refrigerators, dishwashers and washers and dryers, GE Appliances includes factories in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, as well as a stake in Mexican appliance company Mabe.
General Electric, the industrial giant focused on wind turbines and jet engines, had long wanted out of the consumer appliance business and began shopping GE Appliances, off and on, in 2008.
Haier continues to use the “GE” brand under a 40-year licensing agreement that was part of the 2016 purchase.
Nolan said GE Appliances had “double digit” profit growth in 2017 while growing sales, though he declined to give specific figures.
Nolan also declined to say whether Appliance Park, the group of factories in Louisville, is still losing money, as GE Appliances executives said in 2016 when they presented union workers with a contract that cut the starting wage at the factory to $12 per hour (it would later go up to $14), made overtime harder to come by and implemented other cost-saving measures.
But Nolan said the company is committed to its flagship factory and that Louisville-made products such as GE’s high-capacity top loading washing machines are selling well.
“We really are invested in this site, and it’s important to all of us as community members, and we are doing everything we can to come in everyday to make this park more competitive,” he said.
GE Appliances said its five-year plan includes “ambitious” investments in technology, products and manufacturing, but the company did not say how much it plans to spend.
The company wants to be a leader in internet-connected appliances and to expand its distribution network in Dallas, Denver, Atlanta and Northern California.
Nolan, a veteran of General Electric Co., said Haier executives in China have given GE Appliances managers in Louisville a lot of autonomy, while also offering “deep insights” from Haier’s experience making appliances for Chinese consumers.
“What’s different now is we are a global appliance company and we have a lot of resources behind us, a lot of help we can look to,” he said.
GE Appliances is looking to fill about 140 production jobs, which start at $14 an hour. Applications are accepted online.
After adding thousands of jobs under General Electric following the 2008 economic recession, employment at the park has dipped a bit in the few years.
GE Appliances stopped making poor-selling hybrid-electric water heaters, outsourced its warehouse once staffed by union workers and moved production of a hotel-room air conditioner to its factory in Selmer, Tenn.
At the end of 2017, IUE-CWA Local 761 – the union for regular park workers – had 3,560 members, down from 3,865 a year earlier, according to federally required reports.