U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson, who was sworn into office Oct. 21, 2011, will join Whirlpool Corporation Chairman and CEO Jeff M. Fettig in Cleveland on Tuesday for ribbon-cutting ceremonies whose by-invitation-only guest list will include local, state and federal government officials, community leaders and an assortment of Whirlpool employees.
Both will deliver featured remarks shortly after noon once plant tours have been completed, according to a preliminary calendar provided by Kristine M. Vernier, senior manager for Whirlpool Global Public and Media Relations.
“We are honored that U.S. [Commerce] Secretary Bryson is joining us for this important ribbon cutting,” Vernier told the Cleveland Daily Banner from her Benton Harbor, Mich., office where Whirlpool Corporation has been headquartered since its founding 100 years ago.
“Local, state and federal officials, and other select guests, will be offered a tour of the plant,” she added. “Media will be allowed in the plant at a designated location to gather video and/or photos of the production [area] and the tour groups.”
Corporate leaders are working closely with Whirlpool Cleveland plant officials to organize the eagerly anticipated event. The actual ribbon cutting will take place outside along the front facade of the 1-million-square-foot factory whose total investment will hit $200 million once the 120-acre complex is completed.
Still to come is a 400,000-square-foot Factory Distribution Center whose construction is under way adjacent to the plant. It is expected to be completed by year’s end. In addition, a technology and engineering center will be added for the Cleveland-based Whirlpool Global Product Organization employees.
Whirlpool operates three key functions within Bradley County — the manufacturing plant, the GPO engineering and design center, and the Whirlpool Cleveland Customer eXperience Center (call center) located on 20th Street just a short distance from the new production site. Totaled, Whirlpool employs more than 2,000 local workers and has served as Bradley County’s largest employer for decades, dating back to its predecessors such as Dixie Foundry, Dixie Products, Magic Chef Company, Maytag Cleveland Cooking Products, the Cleveland-Tennessee Enamel Company and Hardwick Stove Company.
The excitement level about Tuesday’s ribbon cutting is high among Whirlpool employees, judging by the tone of Plant Leader Dicky Walters.
“We are delighted to have U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson,” Walters said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We are proud of our facility, our project, our partnership with the community and elected officials, and most importantly — our employees.”
Walters added, “We look forward to another 100 years here in Cleveland!”
The chronology of the new Whirlpool site has been succinct and on schedule.
Whirlpool leaders announced the plan to build the factory and distribution center in Cleveland on Labor Day 2010. Three months later, on Veterans Day, the historic groundbreaking ceremonies were held. On March 5, 2012 — still on schedule — the company hosted a dedication to honor two key groups, the Cleveland and Bradley County community and all Cleveland-based Whirlpool employees. Two weeks later, the inaugural appliances bound for retail floors rolled off the first assembly line to be moved from the old manufacturing campus.
The relocation of more assembly lines, equipment, processes and employees will continue until its completion by mid-2013.
While the employee- and community-focused dedication served as the massive facility’s introduction to Cleveland and Bradley County residents, Tuesday’s ribbon cutting will unveil the state-of-the-art, LEED-certified facility to the world through the eyes of U.S. Commerce Secretary Bryson, a member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.
Ceremonies will become more than just symbolic because the new plant will be in operation during the ribbon-cutting festivities. Although most of the plant floor is still bare, the plant’s first assembly and sub-assembly lines, and various processes, will be cranking out product Tuesday.
The festivities will conclude with lunch and refreshments in the spacious cafeteria.
Tuesday’s keynote speakers — Fettig and Bryson — will be sharing some common ground. Whirlpool prides itself upon a theme, “Invested in America,” and Bryson leads the U.S. Department of Commerce with a mindset of, “Build it here and sell it everywhere.”
Since joining the president’s Cabinet, Bryson has concentrated much of his work on job creation and advanced manufacturing. The new Whirlpool plant showcases both. It is a modern and advanced facility, and one that is environment- and energy-friendly through its LEED certification.
Although a global corporation operating in some 70 countries, Whirlpool prides itself on being a U.S.-based company and one that is committed to the rebirth of American manufacturing — as evidenced by the decision to build its new plant in the same town from which it operates a century-old manufacturing complex on King Edward Avenue.
In his March 5 dedication address to several hundred employees, government representatives and community leaders, Fettig pointed to the importance of the growing partnership between his company and the local area. Fettig has led Whirlpool as chairman and CEO since 2004.
“This has been the best, cooperative effort at every level that I’ve seen in the last 31 years that I’ve been with this company,” Fettig said at the dedication ceremony. “I have great confidence this is going to be very successful for all of us.”
He added, “We look forward to filling this place up.”
The filling up has started and will continue through the first half of 2013. At that time, and probably before, Whirlpool leaders will work closely with Cleveland, Bradley County, Chamber of Commerce and economic development drivers to secure new uses for the existing 90-acre site on King Edward.
According to the federal department, Bryson’s focus as commerce secretary targets three areas that are working to create more American jobs. They include supporting advanced manufacturing, helping U.S. companies increase exports and encouraging more companies to invest in or expand operations in the U.S.
Before his appointment to the president’s Cabinet, Bryson spearheaded Edison International, the parent company of Southern California Edison and Edison Mission Group, from 1990 to 2008. At Edison, he led the utility through the California energy crisis.
As CEO, he created a power subsidiary, the Mission Group, which expanded across the U.S. and became a global leader in the privatization of power plants and electric systems in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines and several European countries.