The original plan had been to complete the physical transition from the existing King Edward Avenue site by mid-2013; however, plant leaders have known all along this could be impacted by strong sales volume of any particular product or model.
According to Cleveland Division plant manager Dicky Walters, the rationale is that assembly lines producing high-demand appliances need to remain at the old factory for a longer period instead of disrupting production which a shift from old plant to new plant would create. Once customer demand lessens, the relocation could then be completed.
“This is a good ‘problem’ to have,” Walters told the Cleveland Daily Banner. “We have made the adjustments to meet the demands, including preparing to add a shift to one of our lines this spring.”
To date, the state-of-the-art, $200 million plant and distribution center have operated only a daytime first shift. Because of strong sales volume, the factory will add a second shift, and the warehouse — which opened Jan. 7 — will follow suit.
Filling the second-shift assembly line will create an expected 100 new jobs.
“When the announcement [about the new plant] was made on Sept. 1, 2010, we said these [130 new jobs] would be added over the course of the transition,” Walters noted. “We have already added some of these positions. When we add the second shift on one of our lines this spring, we will be adding approximately 100 more new jobs at that time.”
Contributing to the transition delay is the consolidation of a product category with the Whirlpool cooking division in Tulsa, Okla., that manufactures freestanding ranges. Walters said although the Cleveland Division will miss the original transition completion of mid-2013, the finish will still be soon thereafter. He didn’t speculate on a new date.
Although a few assembly lines remain at the old plant, crews have nonetheless been busy with the massive move which so far is about 65 percent complete, Walters said.
One of the site’s most historic structures — known as Plant 2 and located at the corner of Third Street and Euclid Avenue — is now empty. Formerly operating as Hardwick Stove Company since 1879 before it was acquired by Maytag Corporation in 1982, followed by Maytag’s merger with the Magic Chef Company four years later, the final day of production at Plant 2 was Dec. 21.
Like its other empty spaces in additional buildings — that is, portions of Plant 1, a warehouse and a few office areas that have already moved to the new plant — Whirlpool is also busy cleaning up after itself.
“We are mindful that once all operations cease at the King Edward Avenue site, we will need to have buildings ready for potential new property owners,” Walters said. “Once production ends [in all existing facilities], we do not see any need for these buildings, given that we have 1.4 million square feet of manufacturing and distribution space at the Benton Pike location.”
About one-third of Whirlpool Cleveland’s assembly production remains at the King Edward site, but additional moves are expected soon.
“We are satisfied with the move so far,” the longtime Whirlpool leader explained. “Things have gone mostly as planned. Just like with any new venture, there are a few adjustments that have needed to be made.”
Walters, who held manufacturing leadership roles for Whirlpool divisions in Evansville, Ind., Oxford, Miss., and Tulsa, Okla., before coming to Cleveland almost five years ago, said final determination of when the company will officially vacate the King Edward complex has yet to be made. Once all Whirlpool operations, and equipment, are off-site, a Southside Redevelopment Task Force — named by Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland in conjunction with the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Development Board — will kick into full gear.
Employee reaction to their new “home” is still positive.
“Our workforce has this amazing opportunity to continue the more than 130-year legacy of manufacturing cooking products here in Cleveland,” Walters said. “When visitors and employees enter our new facility, the first thing they see is ‘Pride in our Past ... Looking Forward to Our Future.’”
He added, “The second thing they see is an historical timeline on the floor of the main entrance with ‘the future’ being just beyond the plant entrance doors. Our future is allowing us to ‘transform our new home and our customers’ kitchen.’”
Worker response to the new plant, and the ongoing transition, has been so positive that some longtime associates who had planned to retire are delaying their decisions.
“We have had a few employees who have postponed planned retirements because of their enthusiasm at getting to work in a brand-new plant,” Walters said. “Along these same lines, we were pleasantly surprised by the number of retirees who came to our employee open house last June  and shared the enthusiasm of our current workforce.”
Looking back on 2012 — a year of planning for Bradley County’s largest employer — Walters took a deep breath, but he did it with a broad smile.
“It  was the biggest transition year in Cleveland Division history,” Walters stressed. “It was definitely a year filled with ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experiences from ceremonies with VIPs to seeing our new wall ovens hold all ‘Top 5’ slots with ‘Consumer Reports,’ and our new cooktops taking the ‘Top 3,’ all the while maintaining full production.”
Walters said completing the move from the King Edward Avenue site will be a relief, especially to administrative staff who are shuttling back and forth between plants frequently.
But most of all, he added, the entire Cleveland Division workforce will simply be glad to be in its sparkling house.
“We are proud to continue manufacturing premium, built-in, cooking products here in Cleveland in our new home,” Walters said.
(Editor’s Note: A full recap of Whirlpool Cleveland Division’s busy year in 2012 will be included in the 2013 Progress Edition scheduled for the Feb. 26 issue of the Cleveland Daily Banner).