That’s the assessment of a man whose job is to create jobs — millions of them — from the ruins of the worst national economy since The Great Depression.
Delivering one of two keynote addresses during Tuesday’s official ribbon cutting at the new $200 million Whirlpool Cleveland Division facility on Benton Pike, U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson called on other manufacturers to follow the appliance builder’s lead.
“We need even more great products to be manufactured here in the U.S.,” Bryson told a crowd of more than 100 invited guests that included local, state and federal government representatives, community and economic development leaders, and Whirlpool employees.
Bryson said he believes the Whirlpool lead will be followed, especially once the impact of the state-of-the-art, 1-million-square-foot factory reverberates throughout the appliance industry on national and global stages.
“I want to congratulate all the people at Whirlpool on 100 years of making things here in America,” Bryson, who was appointed to the Commerce post last October by President Barack Obama, said. “Today, CEOs both in the U.S. and abroad are seeing places like Cleveland, Tennessee, and they’re saying, ‘That’s where I want my next factory to go.’”
The White House Cabinet member added, “They see our R&D, our supply chains, the quality of our products and our talented workforce. There is simply no comparison. American competitiveness and American innovation are full speed ahead.”
Bryson pointed to two new strategies intended to boost American manufacturing even further. One is the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a $1 billion proposal to bring local manufacturers together with students, researchers and community leaders ... “we want the best minds” ... to develop best practices for getting ideas from the drawing boards to the marketplace in record time, he explained.
Another is SelectUSA, the first American government initiative intended to help CEOs in-country and abroad to invest more in the U.S., Bryson said.
“We will work with them ... to remove barriers that get in the way,” the Commerce leader cited. “Ultimately, we want to see many more ribbon cuttings like this one throughout Tennessee and throughout our country. Our president is committed to doing everything he can to make that happen. All of us at the Commerce Department are equally committed, and the people here at Whirlpool are really, really helping to lead the way.”
Government and private sector partnerships “... can assure the future of American manufacturing will be bright,” Bryson stressed.
The Commerce head said America’s jobs rebound, buoyed by manufacturing gains, is substantiated by growing numbers. Last month, U.S. manufacturers added 37,000 jobs, he pointed out. The year’s three-month total is 120,000 new jobs, and for the past 25 months the manufacturing sector has tacked on 466,000 jobs, Bryson added.
“That is the best streak we’ve had in the United States since 1995,” the Cabinet member stated.
Motioning to Whirlpool 12-year employee Freddie Wilke — a door line group leader at the new plant who attended the ceremony and who spoke at the plant’s community and employee dedication a month ago — Bryson praised the worker’s passion for product quality that was indicative of his 1,500 factory co-workers.
“Congratulations to Whirlpool, to this wonderful workforce and to this extraordinary community,” Bryson stated.
Borrowing a term from Whirlpool Corporation Chairman and CEO Jeff M. Fettig who spoke beforehand, the Commerce secretary called the new Cleveland facility “... a ‘WOW’ factory.”
He praised the work of Whirlpool Cleveland Division Plant Leader Dicky Walters who has worked as a liaison in the project between Whirlpool Corporation, local, state and federal governments, construction companies, and the Cleveland and Bradley County community.
“I want to say to Dicky Walters, thank you for your extraordinary leadership in being such a huge factor in bringing this together with the huge passion that you bring,” Bryson said. He also credited the innovation of Pam Klyn, general manager of Cooking Business for Whirlpool North America Region, for her role in bringing new, quality-driven home appliances to the U.S. market, and for helping him to understand their capabilities during Tuesday’s plant tour.
Currently, about 200 Whirlpool employees, three assembly lines, several heavy presses and a finishing process are operating out of the new plant. More will be added over the next year until the full transition from the existing manufacturing complex on King Edward Avenue is completed by mid-2013.
Whirlpool Cleveland Division manufactures premium cooking products — ranges, wall ovens and cooktops — under the KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Maytag, Whirlpool and IKEA brand labels.
The local plant employs about 1,500 workers, but another 130 production jobs are being added to the rolls as a result of the new facility. Totaled, Whirlpool employs more than 2,000 workers in Cleveland in its manufacturing plant, its call center on 20th Street (Whirlpool Cleveland Customer eXperience Center) and the Global Product Organization (GPO), which is the engineering and design function located within the manufacturing complex.