CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — The mayors for Clarksville and Montgomery County were among officials who testified Thursday in Washington, D.C., before the U.S. International Trade Commission in support of LG Electronics Inc., the South Korean manufacturer that recently broke ground on a $250 million appliance plant in the local industrial park.
The ITC has begun what’s described as a “rare safeguard investigation” prompted by Whirlpool Corp. into alleged harm to U.S. industry done by increasing washing machine imports from Samsung and LG Electronics Inc., said a news release from Clarksville City Hall, summarizing Law 360, a business and legal news publication.
Speaking before the ITC in D.C. Thursday were Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan and Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett, as well as state Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville.
While the news of an ITC investigation might seem to call into question the status of the major LG project, Durrett told The Leaf-Chronicle, when asked late Thursday, that the development shouldn’t be interpreted as a potential repeat of the Hemlock Semiconductor debacle.
Because of global market conditions, Hemlock in 2013 discontinued its plans for producing polysilicon at a $1.2 billion plant that had just been constructed in Corporate Business Park North. Close to 300 newly trained Hemlock employees, and the entire community, were stunned after the payroll was permanently laid off at the same time the plant was expected to launch production.
“I don’t think we can draw from this development that the LG project is in serious trouble,” Durrett said. “In fact, they’re out there moving dirt on the site today. Everything is still moving forward.”
McMillan reportedly told the ITC at the D.C. hearing that LG’s local investment is “good for Clarksville, good for Tennessee, and it is good for America.
“I am pleased to come here today to highlight the 600 jobs and $250 million investment this plant brings to Clarksville,” McMillan said. “Yes, this case is about U.S. jobs. But it isn’t about U.S. jobs versus foreign competition. This is all about washing machines that will all be made in the U.S. It’s just a matter of whether they will be made in Tennessee (LG), Ohio (Whirlpool) or South Carolina (Samsung.”
McMillan also noted that LG has room to grow on its 310-acre site, and said she hoped this was just the first phase of what will be a growing LG appliance manufacturing complex.
“We are already seeing direct benefits, not to mention the indirect benefits to surrounding businesses like hotels and restaurants,” she said.
Whirlpool reportedly says LG and Samsung have moved manufacturing from South Korea and Mexico to China to avoid country-specific duties on large residential washing machines. The two South Korean companies claim Whirlpool is simply seeking protection from competition.
A safeguard investigation does not require a finding of unfair trade practices, Law 360 reports. The ITC must find an increase in imports to be a “substantial cause of serious injury” to a competing domestic industry; if it does, it will report that and recommendations to President Trump, who has final say over the relief ultimately granted.
Durrett noted Thursday that if, and when the matter comes to Trump’s desk, he can be expected to decide favorably toward LG and Clarksville-Montgomery County, considering that his Secretary of Commerce attended the recent groundbreaking here and singled the local project out as the right kind of investment for the nation.
“I don’t think this development is doom and gloom for us at all,” Durrett said. He, too, spoke before the ITC about the economic boost that is coming to Clarksville-Montgomery County and the region.
“We, and the state, had been recruiting LG for about six years, so I spoke of the importance of not jeopardizing what we’ve worked so hard to gain,” Durrett said.
“Creating jobs and competition is good for everyone,” he said.
Reach Business Editor Jimmy Settle at 931-245-0247 and on Twitter @settle_leaf.