Made in America: Viking Range Corp.; Revitalizing Greenwood, Miss. One Kitchen Product at a Time

Viking is helping to revitalize this town of 18,000.

March 1, 2011, 9:55 AM

March 2, 2011 -- Over the last decade Greenwood, Miss., a town of 18,000, has lost more than 2,000 jobs as the town's top employers took their manufacturing abroad.

"About eight years ago, we lost about three manufacturing plants due to companies leaving here and going to Mexico where they can get labor done cheaper, but Viking saved Greenwood, because Viking decided to stay here with us," said Bridgette Matthews, an employee at Viking Range Corporation who has lived in Greenwood for more than 40 years. "If Viking had left us like the other three manufacturing plants have done, Greenwood would be, it would be awful."

Viking, began making ranges in 1989 and has branched out to produce a variety of kitchen goods that include ovens, dishwashers and refrigerators. For CEO Fred Carl choosing Greenwood as the location for his company was easy.

"This is my home, it's very simple, this is where I'm from, this is my home so this is where it needed to be," said Carl. "We (Greenwood) were in a real serious state of decline ... well before the time I started the company. ... We've (Viking) been able to create jobs, and become one of the town's biggest employers, we are real serious about being a corporate citizen and giving back to the community."

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Viking's impact in the community is evident everywhere. The company's headquarters is located in the town's old opera house and in addition to its four plants and one distribution center it also runs a cooking school, a restaurant and has opened a boutique hotel and spa in an abandoned downtown building.

The company has not only revitalized Greenwood, but also come to define it.

"The business has been successful, we are a well-known brand, a high-end brand, and it gives our little town something to brag about," said Carl. "It's always good for a little town like ours to have something to brag about, so I get a big kick out of that too, and I think that's important. Community pride is just so important."

"It's a good feeling to know that it was made right here in Greenwood, Mississippi," said Matthews. "Where as a lot of people really don't know that the root is right here in Greenwood, ... it's very important to us, and we pray that we keep it right here. ... If it wasn't for Viking, Greenwood would be a ghost town."

Carl says that despite the recent economic pressure he refuses to even think about moving the company abroad.

"Unemployment is fairly high here. We are in the most impoverished area of the most impoverished state in the US. So you can imagine the need for jobs here."

The down economy has caused Carl to cut his workforce as well as the number of production days. In 2009 the company employed 1,200 people, today it employs 975.

"Sales have dropped off, so we have just had to adjust our employment accordingly," said Carl. "We used to run six day a week, now we are four or five days a week. So its been tough."

As an active member of the community, Carl sees the pain of the cutbacks first hand.

"It's awful, it's terrible. Especially when you live here and a lot of these people are your friends, and you know them and you see them out on the assembly line, and you see them in town, it's just terrible, worst thing I've ever been through."

"I know people that have lost their jobs, they miss it tremendously. There's nothing else round here like what we have," said Matthews. "Viking is one of the best, one of the best companies around here."

Carl says in addition to price, where a product is made should factor into people's purchasing decisions.

"It's my responsibility to buy American made products, and I hope that becomes a movement."

A movement that Carl believes can create jobs and keep Americans working.

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