Final Rinse: Maytag Closes

Maytag factory closes its doors in Newton, Iowa.

Oct. 26, 2007 — -- Who doesn't remember the Maytag repairman?

The old television commercials featuring the Maytag appliance repairman showed a perpetually lonely older man, with nothing to do. They take us back to a different time, when kids played with Lincoln Logs and Tiddlywinks.

But today, the era is ending.

It's a sad day in Newton, Iowa, where those Maytags have been built since 1907. Today, the last Maytag factory is closing, the jobs are going away and the town that Maytag built must reinvent itself.

Just last year, the factory employed 1,000 people. And a few years ago, one of every four people in Newton worked for Maytag.

In Newton, a proud factory town of 15,000, the Maytag name is everywhere, and for more than a century it has meant nearly everything.

"We have a saying that the people who show up to work every day bleed blue. They bleed Maytag blue," Newton Mayor Chaz Allen said.

Not anymore. Last year, rival Whirlpool bought the company. It will keep the Maytag brand, but today it closed the Iowa factory. The jobs will be headed to a nonunion plant in Ohio.

"Unfortunately, the business was broken such that the company could not invest in the modernization of this particular facility," said Jeff Noel, vice president of Whirlpool.

Brand Built on Dependability

In 1907, Frederick Maytag, during a slow winter selling the farm equipment he made, started building washing machines.

From the beginning, Maytag staked its name on "dependability."

"The Maytag repairman was bored because of the people of Newton building a quality product," Allen said.

And now the residents of Newton will be just as "bored."

Kim Miller, who put in 23 years at Maytag, has already found a new job, though it's 35 miles from home.

"Don't kid yourself. We're gonna miss Maytag. But we're going to make a new community here. And we're gonna do all right," Miller said.

Her husband, Rick Miller, who after two decades of making Maytags, will be starting his own custom car business.

New corporate tenants in the old Maytag town — a bio-fuel plant and a racetrack — have brought a few hundred new jobs to Newton, though they pay less, with fewer benefits.

"We're sort of reinventing ourselves," Newton resident Nancy Watt said.

At the Newton cafe Watt owns she steams cappuccinos and takes the town's temperature.

"Newton will go on. We're a hearty bunch here," she said.

After more than 100 years, the company town is shedding its longtime identity. The people who've taken such pride in their dependability must now depend on themselves.

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