LOUISVILLE, KY. -- Jefferson County will provide $2 million to train refrigerator production workers at its General Electric plant, hoping the incentive will persuade GE not to move its range manufacturing operations to Maryland.

"Jefferson County cares. We don't want to lose one GE job," Judge-Executive Harvey Sloane said last week.

An announcement is expected shortly on major state aid for training workers at GE, the state's largest private employer. The company recently sought government support in line with assistance given companies such as Toyota and Ford Motor Co.

The county's announcement also apparently was geared to heal feelings that were wounded when only a handful of local legislators showed up for a tour of the plant in August. Some GE workers and officials viewed the poor turnout as a sign that elected leaders are taking GE for granted.

Roger Schipke, senior vice president of GE's major appliance group, called the county's pledge "a bold and decisive step... . You are telling us we are really, truly wanted."

He said the "climate" created by government leaders, as well as the company's investment in its Appliance Park in Louisville and the agreements it reaches with unions, will be considered when GE decides whether to leave the range operation in Kentucky or move it to Columbia, Md.

"We are not here with tin cups," Schipke said, but GE believes it deserves its fair share of government assistance.

"We appreciate what you've done," said Ken Cassady, president of the International Union of Electronic Workers Local 761 at GE. "We're all trying to save jobs."

The county will borrow the $2 million from the state or a local bank, paying it back over 10 years. That's the same amount the county recently pledged as part of an incentive package that helped persuade Ford to spend $260 million to expand its Louisville Assembly Plant. The state kicked in about $10 million for Ford incentives.

Larry Hayes, Gov. Martha Layne Collins' Cabinet secretary, said the state is "probably close to agreeing on some level of support" for training GE workers.

The county's $2 million will help offset about $15 million GE is spending to train up to 2,900 workers in the refrigeration operation.

The new equipment is part of a $450 million investment GE has made in Appliance Park during the past five years. About $250 million more is to be spent in the next several years.endqua