China’s Haier Co. may close on its $5.4 billion purchase of the iconic 65-year-old Appliance Park as soon as Monday. Built during the rapidly growing post-World War II economy, the 1,000-acre park churned out dishwashers and other home appliances for the burgeoning baby boom generation. Construction started in 1951.
With Ford and other big local manufacturers, GE launched a solid middle class that became the foundation of Louisville’s economy. At one time, the park employed 25,000 workers. It was a self-sufficient city providing many of its own needs, right down to mail handling. (In 1953, it got its own Zip Code: 40225.)
But that started to ebb in the 1970s, as manufacturers sought cheaper labor by moving production overseas. Appliance Park now employs only 6,000 workers. Service jobs have become the fastest-growing part of Louisville’s economy. But they’re often part-time and don’t pay as well as factory work once did.
Manufacturing employment last peaked in the Louisville metro area in 1999, when there were an average 95,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It then fell to a low of 60,900 in 2010, when the economy was still recovering from the Great Recession. The better news is that it’s crept up every year since, to 76,500 last year. But it’s extremely unlikely it will ever return to the glory days of 1951, when Appliance Park was king.