The by-invitation-only ceremony was scheduled to feature a keynote address by Jeff Fettig, chairman and chief executive officer of Whirlpool Corporation, a 100-year-old appliance maker headquartered in Benton Harbor, Mich.
Fettig, who has led Whirlpool for years as the world’s leading manufacturer and marketer of quality home appliances, was to be joined by a pair of additional high-ranking company leaders. Marc Bitzer, president of Whirlpool North America Region, and Pam Klyn, general manager of Whirlpool North America Region, had plans to make the flight to Cleveland.
Also scheduled for appearances at today’s dedication podium were Richard “Dicky” Walters, Whirlpool Cleveland Division plant leader, and 12-year Whirlpool employee Freddie Wilke, as well as Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland and Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis. Members of the Walker Valley High School band were scheduled to perform. Invocation was to be delivered by Matt Ryerson, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Bradley County Inc.
Today’s dedication was to include employee and special guest tours, and speaking appearances by key leaders. An official ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held at a later date, according to Kristine Vernier, Whirlpool Corporation spokesperson.
“The event on Monday is indeed planned to be an employee- and community-based celebration,” Walters told the Cleveland Daily Banner over the weekend. “The success of this project is tied to our dedicated and talented employees, and our outstanding state and local leaders.”
Walters, a longtime Whirlpool leader who joined the Cleveland Division in late 2009 to lead the work of a cross-functional Factory Master Plan Team, said today’s dedication — which is billed as a pre-opening — has been designed to honor the division’s dedicated workforce of more than 1,500 and the Cleveland and Bradley County community.
“We believe Monday’s event is a fitting way to celebrate,” the plant leader said late Saturday night.
Friday’s EF-2 tornado that swept into southwest Bradley County and trekked northeast before slamming into North Lee Highway and Charleston area neighborhoods had no impact on the new Whirlpool facility that is located near the Benton Pike junction with Michigan Avenue Road.
“We are still moving forward with the event on Monday,” Walters confirmed in a brief weekend interview with the Banner.
Today’s visit to Cleveland is thought to be Fettig’s first since early 2010 when he personally toured and inspected the 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 fact-finding visit to help determine if the company’s most cost-effective, and efficient, investment was to remodel the aging King Edward campus or to rebuild in a new location.
Fettig’s visit came as a follow-up to the Factory Master Plan Team’s comprehensive work. Under Walters’ stewardship, the team’s task was to develop options — and costs — for the Cleveland plant’s future. One option was to leave the manufacturing operation as it was, one was to modernize it and another for a complete rebuild.
The team was later directed to include new marketing strategies in the cooking plant options. Once the encompassing report was completed, and presented to Whirlpool corporate executives, the board dispatched Fettig to Cleveland to inspect the existing facilities.
The CEO’s tour and inspection led to the later announcement that Whirlpool intended to build a new plant and Factory Distribution Center and to do it in Cleveland. The Whirlpool decision was supported through an incentive package pulled together through government partnerships that included the city of Cleveland, Bradley County, Cleveland Utilities, the Cleveland/Bradley Industrial Development Board, the Economic Development Council, the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce and the state of Tennessee.
Opening of the plant will mark the first time since the factory’s 1917 founding by S.B. Rymer Sr. that it has operated under one roof. The original company was called Dixie Foundry. Subsequent names were Dixie Products, The Magic Chef Company and Maytag Cleveland Cooking Products. The site name became Whirlpool Cleveland Division in March 2006, when Whirlpool acquired the former Maytag Corporation.
The local plant builds premium cooking products under the brand names of KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Maytag and Whirlpool, and also manufactures appliances under the IKEA brand.
In a “Letter to the Editor” published by the Cleveland Daily Banner on its front page, Fettig offered his feelings on the corporation’s 100th anniversary on Nov. 11, 2011.
“Whirlpool remains committed to Cleveland and to our U.S. manufacturing base,” the CEO wrote. “I am exceedingly proud that in the U.S. we have more manufacturing employees than all of our major competitors combined. I am prouder still that in the U.S. — and in every region where we produce appliances — we manufacture products for the local consumers.”
He added, “Of the products we make, more than 80 percent of what we sell in America is made in America. No other appliance manufacturer can come close to that commitment to the U.S. workforce.”