Dicky Walters, plant leader for Whirlpool Cleveland Division, credited the work of Lexington, Ky. contractor Gray Construction for keeping the historic build on schedule. If good fortune continues to shine, heavy equipment will begin moving into the modern facility sometime within third quarter, he said.
“As of right now, we still plan to start production in early 2012,” Walters stated. “The wet weather has certainly created some challenges. We’ve worked closely with Gray Construction which has done a great job in mitigating some of the issues related to the weather.”
The 121-acre construction site is located on Benton Pike at Michigan Avenue Road. Sometime in 2012, work will begin on an accompanying 400,000 square-foot distribution center.
Whirlpool values the total project at $120 million; however, Cleveland-Bradley Chamber of Commerce economic development leaders report total related investments will top out at about $147 million.
Another factor in the construction equation is the simultaneous progress on the new Chatata Creek substation located nearby on Old Powerline Road that will provide electric service to the giant manufacturing facility. Whirlpool wants electric service by Aug. 1 and Cleveland Utilities crews and contractors at one time were on target for a July 1 completion.
Wet conditions and the unprecedented tornadoes that ripped through Bradley County on April 27 diverted CU crews from the work temporarily, but at last report progress is continuing. Dennis Daniel, manager of CU’s Electric Division, is expected to provide a progress update Tuesday when the Cleveland Board of Public Utilities convenes for its monthly gathering.
Walters, a longtime Whirlpool manufacturing veteran who joined the Cleveland operation in late 2009 to lead a Factory Master Plan team whose work eventually led to the company’s decision to build a new plant, said the April 27 tornadoes had no direct impact on the construction site.
“Although the storms were very close to the new plant, they did not cause any damage to the building,” he said.
Much of the modern structure is up and in place. Walls are standing and the roof is nearing its completion. Aerial photographs, one of which is being published in this edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner, show the magnitude of the construction site and the overall size of the state-of-the-art factory.
While contractor and subcontractor crews continue their work, employee team members at the existing Whirlpool facility on King Edward Avenue S.E. are plotting a manufacturing floor design to emphasize production efficiency, cost-effectiveness, product quality and employee safety.
“We have many of our team members involved in the design of the new plant, the layout of the building, the equipment and the operating philosophy,” Walters explained.
One of the relocation leaders is Steve Kiebzak, Whirlpool Cleveland Division senior project manager who is heading up the overall strategy. Kiebzak provided a public update on the construction progress, and a Whirlpool history, at a recent breakfast meeting of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club. Coverage of his presentation is provided in an accompanying news article in this edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner.
Because the existing Whirlpool manufacturing facilities are so massive, and they constitute multiple buildings, the relocation of products, processes and equipment will take time, Walters explained. Although the move-in gets under way later this summer, the production start-up in first quarter 2012 will be partial. It won’t involve all operations.
Full production at the new plant is expected by mid-2013, Walters confirmed. This means Whirlpool won’t be completely out of the King Edward Avenue facility until later that year, at which time serious work will begin toward a redevelopment of the area.
The Cleveland City Council has already approved the establishment of the Southside Redevelopment Task Force whose members will be charged with the responsibility of determining future uses of the entire 90-acre Whirlpool site. Whirlpool will be directly involved in the group’s efforts.
“We have committed to work with [the city of Cleveland, Bradley County and the Chamber of Commerce] to re-purpose the current facility,” Walters stressed. “Since it is still two years away, much of the activity is just beginning.”
Michigan-based Whirlpool, whose corporate offices are located in Benton Harbor, Mich., is in the middle of the company’s 100th anniversary. Completion of the new Cleveland plant is expected to fall closely in line with the culmination of the global corporation’s year-long birthday celebration.
“We have not yet set a date, but expect [a ribbon-cutting] will likely be in late fourth quarter of this year,” Walters said.
Although Whirlpool is changing street addresses, Bradley County’s largest employer isn’t abandoning the old historic manufacturing site without some appropriate pomp and circumstance. Although Whirlpool has owned the Cleveland facility for only five years (Whirlpool acquired the former Maytag Corporation in March 2006), leaders are aware and remain respectful of its sentimental attachment to the Cleveland area.
“We are planning several activities as part of the transition from the current plant to the new plant,” Walters said. “We fully intend to honor the history and heritage of the current facility.”
It’s not a promise Walters makes lightly.
He made the same commitment in September 2010 when Whirlpool announced its decision to construct a new plant — in Cleveland — and he repeated it two months later on Veterans Day (Nov. 11) when the company held groundbreaking ceremonies. Even as Walters addressed a large group of government representatives, economic development leaders, community and civic guests, and employees at the groundbreaking, heavy earth-moving equipment was already steaming full-speed ahead in the background.
The innovative Cleveland factory is the Whirlpool Corporation’s largest single investment in a new plant. The company is seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) status. If successful, this would become the Whirlpool Corporation’s first manufacturing facility in the U.S. to earn the coveted designation.
Whirlpool global sales are $18.3 billion. The company has 70,700 employees in 67 manufacturing and technology research centers. Company brands include Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana, Brastemp, Consul and Bauknecht.
The Whirlpool Cleveland plan’s roots date back to 1916, when it was founded as Dixie Foundry. Later name changes have included Dixie Products, Magic Chef Company and Maytag Cleveland Cooking Products. The Cleveland facility manufactures premium cooking appliances including built-in ranges, wall ovens, cooktops and the popular Gemini double-oven range.
In Cleveland, Whirlpool employs more than 2,000 workers in its trio of operations.