By Dan Shaw, Evansville Courier & Press

For the past 25 years, Tim Chancellor, vice president and general manager of Evansville's Master Manufacturing, has heard rumors that Whirlpool's factory here would shut its doors.

That rumor became fact Friday, but fortunately for Chancellor and Master Manufacturing, the Whirlpool plant is no longer the company's main customer.

But it was in 1973, when Master Manufacturing moved to its current site just west of U.S. 41 to sell metal clips and clamps to the refrigerator manufacturer.

"They set up here to service this particular plant," Chancellor said.

Since then, Master Manufacturing began selling supplies to other Whirlpool factories, including some in Mexico. Also among its current customers are other appliance makers, automobile companies and a variety of other industries.

Still, the closing of the Evansville factory will cause some hardships at Master Manufacturing.

Of particular concern is the fate of 300 workers in Whirlpool's product-development center. Whirlpool hasn't decided if they will stay in Evansville, and local officials say at least two other states are trying to woo those jobs away.

"We worked very closely with their engineers in designing new parts," Chancellor said. "That was very convenient."

Other Whirlpool suppliers say it is too early to know what effect the plant's closing next year will have on their businesses.

John C. Schroeder, the president of both Wabash Plastics and Crescent Plastics, said the impact can't be known for sure until the middle of 2010, when the plant's doors shut permanently.

"It's hard to say right now because we don't know what the economy is going to be like at that time," Schroeder said.

He said Crescent Plastics has very little business with the Evansville plant, but Wabash Plastics produces many of the plastic pans and bins used in the refrigerators made there.

Wabash's other customers include automobile companies and makers of heaters and air conditioners.

"By next June, we are hopeful we will have additional business to fill in for the lost Whirlpool work," Schroeder said.

Across the Ohio River, Henderson, Ky., companies have supplied Evansville's Whirlpool plant with steel manufacturing molds and plastic components for more than 50 years.

"It will be a big blow to the Tri-State area," said Darrell Littrell, the president of Sunrise Tool and Die and Sunron International, both of which do work for Whirlpool.

"A lot of families and businesses will be affected."

Sunron manages the production of plastic injection molds in China on behalf of Whirlpool, while Sunrise builds some of those molds at its plant in Henderson.

"I'm not sure of the final impact on the current domestic operations of Sunrise Tool and Die," Littrell said.

He said much of the plant's future will hinge on what happens to Whirlpool's product-development center.

"We work with those guys on a daily basis," he said.

Elsewhere in Henderson, the Fortis Plastics plant counts the Whirlpool plant as its main customer. Tom Wilgus, the plant manager, said it's too early to gauge the effects of the closing.

"It will impact us, but I have no idea to what degree."

The company opened as Cyanede Plastics in 1949, producing molded parts such as ice cube trays and butter trays for Whirlpool. It did that work for decades before being acquired by the former Atlantis Plastics.

In 2002, the plant was expanded, and workers were added when Whirlpool transferred all its injection molding from the refrigerator plant to Henderson.

Last year, the plant was rolled into the newly founded Fortis Plastics. Wilgus recently said Fortis has been securing business from companies other than Whirlpool.

Staff writer Chuck Stinnett contributed to this report.

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