- Associated Press - Friday, April 27, 2018

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A kitchen appliance manufacturer that was supposed to hire or keep workers in exchange for state incentive money has repaid more than $2.5 million to the state of Mississippi and could repay more if its worker numbers stay low.

State Auditor Stacey Pickering’s office on Thursday released a report detailing repayments by Middleby Corp. and predecessor Viking Range. Pickering is recommending that the Mississippi Development Authority more closely monitor the contract requirements with Middleby “to ensure Middleby is adhering to the contract to minimize and/or eliminate any future defaults.”

A spokeswoman for Middleby, based in Elgin, Illinois, didn’t immediately respond Friday to requests for comment. The company, which makes appliances under different brand names, bought Greenwood-based Viking for $380 million in 2012.

The Leflore County factory has gotten $5.3 million in state money since 2005, and was supposed to create or maintain jobs there. However, job totals have repeatedly fallen short of the numbers to which the company committed.

Of a $3 million grant issued in 2005, Viking and Middleby eventually repaid $2.51 million. The company said it would add 250 jobs to 1,150 that it had, but never reached those job creation levels. Viking did meet the requirement to invest $10 million, actually investing $15.4 million to make dishwashers.



The auditor’s office on Thursday initially said Middleby could owe more on the 2005 agreement, but retracted that statement under questioning from The Associated Press.

Of a 2016 grant of $2.3 million, Middleby repaid $13,000 last summer for falling nine jobs short of 400 it must maintain under the later agreement. That agreement continues, and Pickering’s office said Middleby could have to make further payments if it can’t meet the 400-job threshold.

Middleby said in a February stock filing that sales at Viking fell in 2017, which Middleby blamed on lingering effects from a 2015 product recall. Federal officials have said ovens in freestanding gas ranges could turn on by themselves, with customers then sometimes unable to turn them off. Despite falling sales, the company said profit margins rose at Viking “as a result of continued efficiency gains”

Middleby, which paid $380 million for Viking, sued the company’s former owners in 2015, saying the sellers hid the problem and didn’t set aside enough to cover warranty costs. The company in February said it was writing down $58 million from the value of Viking’s brand because of weak sales.

Pickering’s office has released a series of reports recently on incentive agreements in which companies haven’t met their state obligations.

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Follow Jeff Amy at http://twitter.com/jeffamy . Read his work at https://www.apnews.com/search/By%20Jeff%20Amy .

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