published Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Production to start soon at Cleveland's new Whirlpool site

Paul Leach/Correspondent
From left, Scott Hanson, Jerry Sitton, and Steve Hanson of CGF Signs of Ellijay, Ga., mark sites for future warning and directional parking lot signs at the new Whirlpool site on Benton Pike in Cleveland, Tenn.
Photo by Paul Leach
From left, Scott Hanson, Jerry Sitton, and Steve Hanson of CGF Signs of Ellijay, Ga., mark sites for future warning and directional parking lot signs at the new Whirlpool site on Benton Pike in Cleveland, Tenn. Photo by Paul Leach
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Whirlpool is expected to manufacture and ship the first products from its new Benton Pike site this quarter, officials say.

The company is beginning the transition from its King Edwards Drive plant to a new 1 million-square-foot manufacturing facility and 400,000-square-foot distribution center, representing a $120 million reinvestment in Cleveland.

Whirlpool could roll out products from the Benton Pike location as early as this month, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said after a December meeting with Whirlpool officials.

In the meantime, local government and utilities have been assisting the company in its transition to Benton Pike since it announced its plans in the fall of 2010.

Cleveland Utilities board members voted 5-0 in a recent meeting to give the new site a temporary cut in electrical rates to help it through the startup process.

"It allows a company to kind of transition into their operation," General Manager Tom Wheeler said of the 12-month agreement. "It puts them on a kind of a rate that gives them somewhat of a break while they make this transition."

Cleveland Utilities also has started installing temporary traffic signals in the road network surrounding the new facility. The most recent signal was placed at one of the site's entrances at the intersection of Durkee Road and Benton Pike in late December, according to Bart Borden, manager of the utility's electric division.

Nearby roads also will receive significant makeovers, according to a joint agreement between Bradley County and Cleveland. Whirlpool officials previously cited concern for residential traffic safety and commercial capacity as the need for the improvements.

Current Tennessee Department of Transportation plans call for road upgrades to be made to Benton Pike, Durkee Road and Michigan Avenue. Michigan Avenue will receive significant realignment leading up to its intersection with Benton Pike. Durkee Road will be widened and have the grade of its shoulders softened, while Benton Pike will receive a few extra lanes in the vicinity of the new site.

The road projects officially will launch with right-of-way acquisitions once the city and county each have submitted $1 million deposits to TDOT, which is expected to happen in this month. The state will contribute $2 million to the $4 million project.

In a November meeting with county commissioners, TDOT officials advised that the road projects probably would take 18 to 24 months to complete.

Whirlpool officials did not respond Thursday afternoon to requests for information.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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