Located just inside an entrance to the cavernous structure toured by Haslam and his government team was an easel holding a Sept. 22, 2010, edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner whose front-page headline read, “Whirlpool workers give plant a ‘wow.’”
The article was published following the company’s earlier announcement of its intent to construct the $120 million manufacturing facility and distribution center in Bradley County. The news piece featured interviews with several Whirlpool Cleveland Division employees who work in the Plant 2 building. All gave their employer’s announcement a thumbs-up review.
But it wasn’t the only warm welcoming the governor and first lady received, as well as Beth Harwell, speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives who also made the trip from Nashville. The trio traveled to Southeast Tennessee to tour the Whirlpool facility and to attend a home dedication commemorating the six-month observance of the April 27 tornadoes that plowed through Bradley County.
At least five twisters, and perhaps more, including smaller ones that spun off from the original funnels, took nine lives while destroying 285 homes and badly damaging hundreds of others. Those killed by the storms were memorialized during the emotional ceremony that included the dedication of the Terry Parker family home by the Bradley County Long-Term Recovery Organization.
The Parkers lost their home during the 12 hours of infamy that befell Bradley County during the storm outbreak.
The willingness of the Haslams and Harwell to join Cleveland and Bradley County residents in remembering those affected by the tornadoes touched members of the local legislative team, as well as the city and county mayors — all of whom traveled with the three Nashville visitors during the Whirlpool tour and the LTRO dedication.
“Thursday’s visit marked the 6-month anniversary of the April storms and we were so pleased that Gov. Haslam, our first lady and Speaker Harwell could be here to witness Whirlpool’s participation in our local recovery,” said State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland representing the 24th Legislative District.
Brooks added, “Many Whirlpool team members were affected by the storms and many more came to the aid of not only their co-workers, but also friends, neighbors ... even strangers. From the CEO in Michigan to the folks here in the Cleveland plant, call center and technology center, Whirlpool reinvested back into our local families on the road to recovery.”
The legislator praised the Whirlpool Corporation and the new-plant construction that should be completed sometime during first quarter 2012.
“The new Whirlpool plant in Cleveland represents the company’s largest investment in the U.S. ... ever,” Brooks said. “Their investment in the families of Cleveland and Bradley County continued the 100-year tradition of stove manufacturing in this community.”
Brooks acknowledged his emotion over last week’s visit.
“It was a personal thrill to show our governor the team spirit and community concern that this giant corporation has in our town,” Brooks said. “Just like the governor, Whirlpool is the real deal. They gave back to our citizens in both tangible and intangible ways. We are grateful.”
State Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland representing the 22nd Legislative District, joined Brooks in his appreciation for Whirlpool and the governor’s visit.
“Whirlpool has always been a great industry and an asset to Bradley County,” Watson said. “Whirlpool Cleveland has developed a great heritage with home appliances.”
He added, “The construction of the new Whirlpool facility will assure that Cleveland will continue to be a dominant presence within the appliance industry. After touring the new facility, I am honored that Whirlpool has chosen to invest in our community; and, I am humbled that Gov. and Mrs. Haslam, and Speaker Harwell, would be so gracious as to take their time to visit and to join in our remembrance of those lost in the April tornadoes.”
State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville representing the 9th Senatorial District, who provided volunteer hours during Bradley County’s immediate cleanup, said the LTRO dedication was a good example of people helping people.
“Thursday was a great example of what can happen when a community comes together and takes care of its own,” Bell, a Bradley County native, said. “We appreciate the help from both the state and federal governments, but this day would not have been possible without the countless volunteer hours of many churches and community organizations here in Cleveland and Bradley County.”
Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said the Haslam and Harwell visit points to the positive reputation the Cleveland area community is building statewide and beyond.
“I was pleased that Gov. and Mrs. Haslam, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, would take time from their busy schedules to spend much of their day in Bradley County,” Davis said. “They saw firsthand the industrial growth we’re experiencing here.”
The county mayor added, “It was also timely that their visit coincided with the six-month anniversary of the April 27 storms. I’m glad the governor could help us celebrate with the Terry Parker family as they move into the new home funded by the Long-Term Recovery Organization. Thursday was truly a special day for our community.”
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland pointed to the governor’s request to meet with Whirlpool employees during the tour.
“His one-on-one with some of the Whirlpool folks was good for our entire community,” Rowland said. “The governor was very personal in his visit by opening the floor for any comments or suggestions concerning how state government can assist with local development and jobs creation.”
Rowland said the Haslam visit also points to the growing state commitment toward jobs and growth.
“The governor’s visit just furthers the state’s commitment to our new industrial growth in Cleveland and Bradley County,” the city mayor stressed. “I am pleased Gov. Haslam came to visit the new LEED-certified Whirlpool plant, and that he continued his day by attending — and participating in — the dedication of the Terry Parker family home.”
Another of those humbled by the Nashville delegation’s visit was the man who oversees the Whirlpool plant — Dicky Walters, plant leader who came to Cleveland in late 2009 to lead a Factory Master Plan team whose work led to Whirlpool Corporation’s eventual decision to build anew in Bradley County.
“Obviously, we’re pleased that Gov. Haslam, first lady Crissy Haslam and Speaker of the House of Representatives Beth Harwell selected Whirlpool for their visit to Bradley County,” Walters said. “It confirms what we have known the past couple of years — that the rest of the state, the region and the nation are watching Cleveland and Bradley County because of the economic growth we’re continuing to see.”
Walters added, “This new plant sends a definite message to the people of Cleveland, Bradley County and Tennessee — Whirlpool is pleased to be right here while serving as an integral part of the community.”
Jeff Bischoff, vice president of Business Development for Gray Construction of Lexington, Ky., the general contractor for the Whirlpool plant, praised the Cleveland and Bradley County community, and the state of Tennessee, for their willingness to partner with the century-old appliance manufacturer in making the new plant a reality.
His sentiments were echoed by Gene Sparks, Factory Master Plan leader for Whirlpool, who toured a Cleveland Daily Banner reporter through the new plant later in the day. Exclusive photographs from the tour are published inside today’s edition.
To date, the structure is still relatively empty, but heavy equipment and processes are gradually being installed.
Whirlpool anticipates early production to begin in Spring 2012. An accompanying 400,000-square-foot distribution center to be located behind the factory should be completed in late 2012.
The complex sits on a 120-acre site. Prior to the start of construction, the project included the mitigation of 12 acres of wetlands and three streams were rerouted. Plant occupancy is expected to take place 13 months from the groundbreaking date which was Veterans Day 2010.
From 2009 through 2013, Whirlpool anticipates a total plant and distribution center investment of approximately $200 million. It is the largest single investment in the 100-year history of the Whirlpool Corporation.