The by-invitation-only ceremony will include self-guided tours through the plant beginning at noon. The dedication kicks off at 1 p.m. and will feature a keynote address by Jeff Fettig, chairman and chief executive officer of Whirlpool Corporation. Official ribbon-cutting ceremonies will be held on a later date, according to Kristine Vernier, Whirlpool spokesperson.
Fettig will be joined at the podium by a delegation of Whirlpool leaders and local government representatives. They include Marc Bitzer, president of Whirlpool North America Region, and Pam Klyn, general manager for Cooking Business, Whirlpool North America Region.
Also to speak at Monday’s celebration representing the company will be Richard “Dicky” Walters, Whirlpool Cleveland Division plant leader, and Freddie Wilke, a 12-year Whirlpool employee. Special guests scheduled to speak include Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland and Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis. Matt Ryerson, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Bradley County Inc., will deliver the invocation, and the Walker Valley High School band will perform.
This is thought to be Fettig’s first official appearance in Cleveland since early 2010 when he personally toured and inspected the existing Whirlpool Cleveland Division manufacturing facilities on King Edward Avenue at the behest of the Whirlpool Corporation board of directors. According to reports, Fettig’s mission then was to see for himself the century-old factory in a visit intended to help determine if the company’s most cost-effective investment was to remodel or to rebuild.
Later this year, the massive 120-acre manufacturing complex will add another component with the completion of a neighboring 400,000 square-foot Factory Distribution Center.
The local facility employs more than 1,500 workers. Some 130 new jobs are being added at the LEED-certified, state-of-the-art factory. Many of the production positions already have been filled.
Monday’s dedication culminates a journey that was launched Labor Day 2010, when Whirlpool publicly announced plans to build the new plant and that it would be up and running sometime during first quarter 2012. The announcement was celebrated then as a commitment to the people of Cleveland and Bradley County, as well as to U.S.-based manufacturing.
Three months later, groundbreaking ceremonies were held on the scenic property near the Benton Pike and Michigan Avenue Road intersection against a backdrop of heavy earth-moving machinery whose work had already begun. Whirlpool spent the remainder of 2010 and all of 2011 focused on two objectives — building the new plant and maintaining production at the existing facilities.
General contractor is Gray Construction of Lexington, Ky.
Gov. Bill Haslam, his wife, Crissy, and Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, toured the facility during construction last October. Haslam said then the eyes of the state and nation are resting on the Cleveland and Bradley County community because of the unprecedented economic development taking place here over the past two years.
“I don’t think you’re seeing this kind of economic activity anywhere else in the country,” Haslam said then. “It’s impressive to see a million-square-foot facility coming up here. To see a million square feet under one roof ... you can imagine, it’s like six football fields built this way and three that way. It’s a pretty impressive sight.”
Dedication of the Whirlpool Cleveland Division facility — which will now become a close neighbor to the Whirlpool Cleveland Customer eXperience Center (call center) on 20th Street — will stake a claim to Bradley County industrial history. The Whirlpool facility joins another new operation, the Amazon.com fulfillment center now operating in north Bradley County. Construction is well under way on the nearby Wacker Polysilicon North America complex near Charleston.
Production at the new Whirlpool facility will launch in stages as assembly operations are gradually transitioned from the King Edward Avenue complex to the new Benton Pike plant. Whirlpool leaders believe the relocation of all assembly operations, products and processes will be completed by mid-2013.
The move’s completion will mark the first time in local history that the appliance maker has built cooking products under one roof since its early-1900s startup. Currently, the King Edward Avenue operation manufactures premium cooking products in three facilities — Plant 1 East, Plant 1 West and Plant 2, the latter of which is the multilevel building at the corner of 3rd Street and Euclid Avenue. Plant 2, whose parallel neighbor is the old Hardwick Woolen Mills factory, once housed the former Hardwick Stove Company.
The complex once hosted a fourth manufacturing facility. The former Plant 3 building, which housed the old Cleveland-Tennessee Enamel plant, was closed several years ago as a cost-cutting measure during an initiative billed as “24/7” that sliced $24 million in seven quarters (21 months) from the local manufacturer’s operating costs.
The Plant 1 structure was once home to the original Dixie Foundry, whose origin dates back to 1917 when it was founded by S.B. Rymer Sr. In its beginning, Dixie Foundry manufactured cast-iron skillets, frying pans, boiling pots and other small kitchen tools.
Dixie Foundry was later renamed Dixie Products. Subsequent names included Magic Chef Company and Maytag Cleveland Cooking Products. The operation became known as Whirlpool Cleveland Division in March 2006 when Whirlpool Corporation acquired the old Maytag Corporation, a North American appliance icon that was struggling to stay afloat in the competitive appliance industry.
“Obviously, having all of our operations in one building, compared to three today, is a significant source of efficiency improvements,” Walters told the Cleveland Daily Banner in a recent interview that was published Tuesday in the 2012 Progress Edition. “We are also consolidating multiple platforms into fewer platforms which will lead to fewer assembly lines that run at higher daily line rates.”