ELKHART — While the announcement that the parent company of Carrier Corp. is closing two of its factories in Indiana has been met with widespread anger across the state, a local Carrier dealer is defending the decision, describing as it a smart business move.
Bartt Smith, the owner of Henry Smith Plumbing Heating & Cooling in Elkhart, said while he was saddened that some Hoosiers will lose their jobs, Carrier gave its employees advance warning and offered them jobs in other parts of the country.
“Carrier has plants in Tennessee and New York that they were offered to relocate to,” Smith said. “They also have offered to pay for expenses for the employees to go back to school and get further training. This is a global economy and Carrier needed to do this to stay competitive.”
United Technologies Corp. announced this month that it’s planning to shut down two factories in the state with some 2,100 workers and move production to Mexico. Carrier will close its Indianapolis plant employing 1,400 workers and United Technologies Electronic Controls will close its Huntington factory with 700 jobs.
Carrier, a heating, ventilating and air-conditioning manufacturer, said it was moving the jobs to Mexico because of "ongoing cost and pricing pressures driven, in part, by new regulatory requirements,“ according to a statement.
Smith mentioned Carrier’s top competitors — Lennox and Trane — have had operations in Mexico for years.
“Both of those companies have a well-established employee base down in Mexico,” he said.
Carrier’s president of North American HVAC systems and services, Chris Nelson, said the company is closing the Indianapolis plant in response to “the continued migration of the HVAC industry to Mexico.” He said that migration has included the company’s suppliers and competitors.
When asked if he had heard any complaints from customers about the move, Smith said the issue doesn't seem to be a big deal to the people he has talked with.
“As a factory dealer, I knew this move was coming for a little while,” said Smith. “We have been in the community for over 50 years and our customers like the service they get with us. I am sure our competitors will take some stabs at us, but our customers don’t seem to mind.”
State leaders issued a bipartisan letter to United Technologies, the parent company of Carrier, asking them to find a solution to continue operations here in Indiana. U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, Gov. Mike Pence, U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, Congressman Andre Carson, Congressman Marlin Stutzman, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, and Huntington Mayor Brooks Fetters all signed the letter.
“While we struggle to understand the basis of your business decision, we continue to believe that when we work together we can solve most problems,” states the letter.
Carrier told United Steelworkers Union 1999, the union representing Carrier employees in Indianapolis, that the closure is based in part on the fact that the average Indiana worker makes $20 an hour while in Mexico employees can be paid $6 per hour.
United Steelworkers President Chuck Jones said Carrier’s move is disgraceful considering that it has been in Indianapolis since the early 1950s.
“There are a lot of questions and people don’t know whether it’ll affect their benefits and pension,” Jones told The Indianapolis Star. “Our feeling is all the retirement benefits and whatnot are still in effect.”
Pence has said that he is working to find out what type of financial incentives the state had given Carrier over the past few years and whether the stipulations of those incentives had been met.
“We are reviewing right now all the agreements between the state of Indiana and these companies,” the governor said. “And if they do not fulfill the obligations made in these contracts, we’ll look to get the taxpayers’ money back.”