In the spirited words of Whirlpool Cleveland Division Plant Leader Dicky Walters who emceed the midday ceremony, the sparkling 1-million-square-foot factory represents “the world’s newest, largest, most innovative, soon-to-be LEED-Certified premium cooking facility in the world.”
The festive occasion, replete with two keynote addresses and several government accolades, came in the aftermath of a string of highlights in the plant’s short history: the Whirlpool public announcement of its decision to rebuild in Cleveland on Labor Day 2010, groundbreaking on Veterans Day three months later, a community and employee dedication on March 5, 2012, the official launch of production on March 19, and now Tuesday’s eagerly anticipated ribbon cutting.
An employee open house is scheduled for June.
Anchoring the slate of celebratory addresses before a crowd of more than 100 local, state and federal government representatives, community leaders and a variety of Whirlpool employees was a presentation by Jeff M. Fettig, chairman and CEO of Whirlpool Corporation who also introduced the day’s guest speaker from Washington, D.C., U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson.
Fettig, who made his second trip to Cleveland in a month from Whirlpool Corporation headquarters in Benton Harbor, Mich., said the most common three questions he has received in the past two years since Whirlpool unveiled its plans to build anew in Bradley County include: Why invest in America? Why invest in premium cooking? Why invest in Cleveland, Tenn?
“We believe in this country,” Fettig declared. “We’ve been investing in America for 101 years. We think that manufacturing in the U.S. can absolutely provide the best cost, the best quality and the most innovative products for this large market that we serve.”
Fettig supported his claim with numbers. Currently, more than 82 percent of the products Whirlpool makes in the U.S. are sold in America. Also, more than 12 percent of Whirlpool production in the U.S. is now exported.
The 31-year Whirlpool employee, who has led the corporation since 2004, said the company spends more than $7.4 billion to operate its nine U.S. plants, while providing jobs to 15,000 manufacturing workers. Whirlpool spends more than $10 million per year training its U.S. employees.
“We think we have the best workforce in the appliance industry,” Fettig stressed.
He also pointed to the Whirlpool commitment to American jobs.
“We are proud to have more U.S. manufacturing employees than all of our major competitors combined and today’s ceremony further signifies Whirlpool Corporation’s confidence in the Cleveland, Tennessee, workforce and in U.S. manufacturing in general,” the corporate executive stressed. “The advanced production here supports the growth of our premium cooking products business which includes some of the most innovative ranges, ovens and cooktops offered in the marketplace.”
The Whirlpool decision to invest in premium cooking comes at a time when the housing market and home remodeling — both of which directly impact the appliance industry — are at recession levels based on product demand, Fettig explained. However, the company’s cooking category has designed new innovations that have readied the company for rapid growth.
“When you see them (appliance products), you say ‘WOW,’” the CEO stressed. “When you use them, you say ‘WOW.’ And when you keep them because of the high quality, you say ‘WOW.’ I was overwhelmed by our innovation in cooking.”
This pointed to the need to build a new factory and to invest heavily in its efficiency, productivity and in its energy- and environment friendly design, as evidenced by the coming LEED Certification at the Gold Level, Fettig cited.
He said Tennessee is home to a legacy of cooking and Cleveland has served as the kitchen leader, dating back to 1879 when Hardwick Stove Company began producing wood-burning, pot-bellied stoves. Hardwick Stove was located in the manufacturing building now known as Plant 2 on the existing Whirlpool Cleveland campus.
“When we looked at this, we did our due diligence,” Fettig said. “We looked at different sites. We looked at different countries. We looked at different factors. It all boiled down to, ‘Where could we be most competitive, where could we have the highest quality workforce to make great products and where could we have the support we needed to do it in such a short period of time.”
He added, “Without a doubt, it was Cleveland, Tennessee.”
Fettig credited the local workforce, the community commitment to Whirlpool, the tremendous sales and strong partnerships with municipal, county and state governments.
“This (the new plant) is the fastest ‘decision to production’ I have ever seen in U.S. manufacturing,” Fettig stressed.
The Whirlpool board chairman admitted he gets those questions less now that others have seen the plant, its current operation and its potential for the future.
“There is no doubt I think this is a world-class manufacturing facility ... with great innovative products that give us great confidence to continue investing, both in U.S. manufacturing and in our people,” Fettig closed.
dignitaries take stage
Walters opened Tuesday’s ceremony by welcoming the day’s special guests on behalf of 68,000 Whirlpool employees worldwide and more than 2,000 who are based in Cleveland at either the plant, the call center (Whirlpool Cleveland Customer eXperience Center) or the Global Products Organization (GPO), which is the engineering and design group.
Walters, who led the work of the original Factory Master Plan team in late 2009 that led to the eventual decision to build a new facility, credited the work of community leaders, government representatives and Gray Construction of Lexington, Ky., whose crews and Tennessee contractors built the factory in record time.
Walters also closed the series of speeches prior to the ribbon-cutting event.
“It’s a great honor for all of us who work here at Whirlpool Cleveland to receive this level of acknowledgment for quite honestly doing what we love to do every day,” the plant leader stressed. “We build products here with pride and quality, and we want our customers to use them and enjoy them every day in their home ... and with their families.”
Walters honed in on the personal touch to appliance manufacturing.
“Working at this plant, we feel pride on a daily basis for every birthday cake that is baked and every Easter ham that is cooked ... in a product that came from right here in Cleveland, Tennessee,” he offered. “We are also proud of our company’s investment in America and our company’s investment right here in Southeast Tennessee. It makes our jobs even more rewarding.”
Pam Klyn, general manager of the Cooking Business for Whirlpool North America Region, said Cleveland workers have built cooking products for 133 years, representing five generations.
“The people and the community of Bradley County and the state of Tennessee have welcomed Whirlpool with open arms,” Klyn said. “To the community and the leaders of Bradley County, thank you for your teamwork and collaboration. To all our employees, past and present, we thank you. You are the reason we are here today celebrating this new factory right here in Cleveland, Tennessee.”
Tennessee Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey, who hails from neighboring Chattanooga, called it a “great day” for the Cleveland area community. Representing Gov. Bill Haslam, Ramsey said the Whirlpool ribbon cutting is all about jobs. He urged Bradley County to maintain its commitment to education because companies like Whirlpool need solid, trainable employees.
“You can’t talk about jobs, and job creation, without talking about a good, well-trained, educated workforce,” Ramsey said.
He pointed to the Haslam administration’s commitment to help existing business and industry to expand, and to do it with a low Tennessee tax base.
Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bill Hagerty called Whirlpool “... a household name that has chosen this workforce in this community to invest in again.
“We could not be more proud to have you here,” Hagerty told Whirlpool leaders. “It underscores one important fact, that Tennessee is the best state in the nation to do business.”
Although they did not have speaking roles in the ribbon-cutting ceremony, two of three members of the Bradley County legislative delegation toured the new plant and offered their congratulations.
“We believe that Whirlpool invested in the Cleveland plant because of the Cleveland people,” according to state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland representing the 24th Legislative District. “We are eager to show the world what we can do.”
He added, “We have prepared, planned and prayed for this day. We have had a groundbreaking, a dedication and now a ribbon cutting. An event, an investment, an exciting addition to our community deserves such celebration.”
Brooks said Tuesday’s ribbon cutting was the culmination to an appliance manufacturing story that began 133 years ago in Cleveland.
“This is a great day!” he stressed.
State Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland representing the 22nd Legislative District, said the Whirlpool plant symbolizes more than a modern, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility. He pointed to its importance in the livelihood, the future and the dreams of Cleveland and Bradley County area families.
“This is all about people, and it’s all about a company that is willing to take a step forward for those people — some five generations whose lives have revolved around community, work, church and caring for their neighbors,” Watson said.
“This is truly a great day for Whirlpool, for Cleveland and Bradley County, for our state and for anyone who understands the significance of being ‘Invested in America,’” Watson added.
State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville representing the 9th Senatorial District, could not attend the ceremonies, but offered his congratulations as well.
“This ribbon cutting marks a truly momentous day for Cleveland and our surrounding communities as Whirlpool has been a valued partner in providing better job opportunities for so many of our citizens,” Bell said. “I am very honored to celebrate the visible beginning of a new era of Whirlpool with this state-of-the-art facility.”
Bell added, “I wish them many, many more years of success.”