By Dan Shaw, Evansville Courier & Press

When Whirlpool announced last month it will close its Evansville factory, it left the fate of 300 engineers and other professionals there in limbo.

Today is the deadline by which local officials had to submit incentives meant to prevent Whirlpool from sending those jobs elsewhere. Greg Wathen, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana, said Whirlpool plans to reach a decision about the workers by the end of the month.

He declined to describe the incentives offered by local officials. Wathen said he wants to avoid releasing information that may give competitors an advantage.

"I think we are very aggressive," he said. "In my mind, it meets all of the criteria they lay our for us. But only they can tell us whether this achieves the goals they have set."

The competition for the jobs, he said, is intense. It includes at least two other cities - in Michigan and Iowa - and may extend to others outside the country, he said.

A representative of Whirlpool's corporate office couldn't be reached for comment.

When announcing the closing of the Evansville factory, Whirlpool said 1,100 manufacturing employees would be out of work by the middle of 2010. Left undecided, though, was the status of 300 workers employed in the company's local product-design center.

They occupy space both in the main factory building off U.S. 41, as well as a smaller structure on the same campus. Wathen said the loss of those workers would be an even worse blow to a local economy already bracing itself for the elimination of the manufacturing jobs.

Wathen said the incentive package sent in today is the second local officials have put together. Whirlpool returned the original offer, asking that it be refined.

He believes the current one is the best local officials could make.

"There are very few other places we can go," Wathen said.

Elsewhere, state officials are taking steps to help the 1,100 Whirlpool employees who will find themselves without jobs by the middle of next year. Mickey Kinder, of Indiana Workforce Development, said those workers are taking surveys used to determine if they can receive help under the federal Trade Adjustment Act.

That act gives assistance to those who have lost jobs because of outsourcing or competition from foreign companies. In Whirlpool's case, the work now done in Evansville is being moved to Mexico.

Still, not everyone can receive such benefits, which can include training for up to 156 weeks and subsides to participants' income. Each worker's case is different and will be judged according to its particular merits, Kinder said.

For those who can't take advantage of the benefits offered through the Trade Adjustment Act, there is the local WorkOne office. The unemployed can go there to enroll in various training programs and receive similar assistance.

The United Way of Southwestern Indiana is also preparing to inform Whirlpool workers of the many social services they can rely on in coming months. Those range from programs meant to maintain mental health to those that help pay a person's utility bills.

Before any outside agency holds formal meetings with employees, they are waiting for Whirlpool to conclude its bargaining with Local 808 of the International Union of Electrical Workers over severance payments and similar benefits. Debby Castrale, a spokeswoman for the local factory, said those talks will begin soon.

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