Whirlpool proposes $50M tech center upgrade in St. Joseph

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Whirlpool is exploring a multiyear, $50 million project to renovate or rebuild its technology center in southwest Michigan.

The Benton Harbor-based global appliance maker Whirlpool Corporation (NYSE: WHR) proposed options to rebuild or renovate its global technology center in St. Joseph, near the company’s global and North American headquarters in Benton Harbor, according to the southwest Michigan economic development agency Cornerstone Alliance on Thursday.

Proposals for new construction at the existing St. Joseph site include a possible 150,000 square feet of new construction with an investment of about $50 million. The new facility would replace much or all of the existing St. Joseph Technology Center, parts of which are more than 100 years old.

Jeff Noel Courtesy Cornerstone Alliance

“In this, our 110th year of operation, we know it is necessary to modernize this facility to remain the leader in our industry,” said Jeff Noel, Whirlpool’s vice president of corporate communications and public affairs. “Competition in the home appliance industry is fierce, it’s global and our talented people help our company take on new challenges we face every day. Ensuring we have world-class testing and product development labs will help us remain competitive and attract and retain highly qualified talent.”

Currently, Whirlpool Corporation employs more than 4,000 full-time employees and contractors in southwest Michigan, nearly 400 of whom are based at the St. Joe Tech Center.

The appliance manufacturer is seeking local and state support, along with tax abatements, to make this project a reality, as it competes internally for funding with other global priorities for the company. The plan currently is under consideration by the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and the city of St. Joseph.

“This is an important project for Berrien County and the region,” said Dan Fette, Berrien County community development director. “Having a strong Whirlpool presence here means excellent job opportunities and vibrant economic activity. We are working closely with representatives of Whirlpool Corporation on ways to partner in order to make this project a local reality. The city, county and state officials have been extremely supportive in our conversations about the significance of this major investment.”

Rob Cleveland Courtesy Cornerstone Alliance

Rob Cleveland, president and CEO of Cornerstone Alliance, helped develop his organization’s five-year strategic plan for economic development and sees ties to that plan within this project.

“This is about jobs and supporting ongoing, healthy investments in our community,” Cleveland said. “This project meets all of those criteria, and we are excited at the possibility of this proposal moving forward.”

St. Joseph Mayor Michael Garey said he sees the benefits of a new technology center in the city.

“Whirlpool Corporation is a tremendously positive influence on our city. We want to continue to see St. Joseph move forward, and part of that means doing what we can to make our area attractive to further development,” he said. “Whirlpool Corporation is a good community partner and reinvests back into our local community, either through philanthropic endeavors or through expansion of its many facilities in the (Benton Harbor/St. Joseph) area.”

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