U.S. Commerce Secretary Bryson salutes Whirlpool's Cleveland plant

U.S. Commerce Secretary Bryson salutes Whirlpool's Cleveland plant

April 11th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson reaches into a new over on the line at the Benton Pike Whirlpool plant in Cleveland, Tenn., Tuesday. Chairman and CEO Jeff Fettig, left, gave the secretary a tour of the 1 million-square-foot facility.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

GOING GREEN

Whirlpool's new Cleveland plant is seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold status.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson said Tuesday that Whirlpool Corp.'s new $200 million plant here is an example of American manufacturing making a comeback.

"American competitiveness and innovation are full-steam ahead," Bryson told a group of Whirlpool workers, officials and others before cutting a ribbon to mark the plant's opening.

Bryson, who toured the 1 million-square-foot facility off Benton Pike, said the plant that makes ovens and stoves has "the wow factor."

Officials for Michigan-based Whirlpool call the factory the world's largest premium cooking products plant. Whirlpool employs 1,500 people in Bradley County and plans to bring on about 130 more to the plant that will replace its existing Cleveland site by mid-2013.

Bryson, who also visited Chattanooga's Volkswagen plant Tuesday, said manufacturing created 37,000 more jobs in the U.S. economy last month. That's 120,000 manufacturing sector jobs in the first three months, he said.

In the past 25 months, the economy has added 466,000 manufacturing slots -- the best streak since 1995, Bryson said.

The new plant holds about 200 workers and three production lines so far, according to Whirlpool. Its wall-oven line alone makes about 775 units a day, the company said.

Jeff Fettig, Whirlpool's chairman and chief executive, said that more than 82 percent of the products the company sells in the U.S. are made domestically.

"Whirlpool has more manufacturing employees in the U.S. than all of our competitors combined," he said, noting the company has 15,000 workers in America.

Fettig said he's asked why Whirlpool is investing amid the housing downturn and slow economy.

"Demand will come back," he said. "We want to be positioned to grow very fast."

Claude Ramsey, Tennessee's deputy governor, said Whirlpool is now even more heavily anchored in Bradley County. He said Gov. Bill Haslam values a low tax base and an educated, trainable workforce.

"We want you to make a profit," Ramsey said. "If you don't make a profit, you can't hire people."

Evelyn Apolinario, a team leader in the finishing department at the plant, said the new building is a big change from the old facility and brings new technology.

"That's a great opportunity to bring more quality," she said.

Robert Woods, who works in the quality assurance group, said all of Whirlpool's processes will be under one roof in the new facility.