By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune enterprise editor
Tipton — For almost five years, the vacant manufacturing plant in western Tipton County sat empty. But today a new sign is out front, proclaiming it “The Future Home of the Chrysler Tipton Transmission Plant.”
Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Chrysler Group LLC, announced Thursday the U.S. automaker will invest $162 million in the Tipton facility and eventually employ 850 people.
Beginning in the first quarter of 2014, the plant is expected to produce the new nine-speed transmissions for the Dodge Dart and Jeep Cherokee.
The intended use of the 800,000-square-foot facility has come full circle.
Originally, Chrysler partnered with German manufacturer Getrag Transmission to build transmissions in the plant. That partnership ended in 2008 after Getrag couldn’t secure funding to complete the facility.
The plant eventually was sold to W.W. Reynolds, which intended to lease the plant to Abound Solar for the manufacture of solar panels. Abound went bankrupt in 2012, and Chrysler purchased the property from Reynolds.
“The Tipton plant will be located in a building originally constructed several years ago to house a transmission plant to be operated by Getrag, and then slated to house a solar panel maker,” Marchionne said. “In each case, plans were scuttled before the facility was ever opened.”
The Tipton County Council approved a 10-year personal property tax abatement for the facility in December.
“Once completed in 2014, the new plant will build our new nine-speed automatic transmission, which will be installed first in our Jeep Liberty successor, a key product that will debut later this year,” Marchionne said.
Until the Tipton facility begins production, the nine-speed transmission will be manufactured at Indiana Transmission Plant I in Kokomo.
Tipton Mayor Don Havens said Thursday’s announcements for Kokomo and Tipton County were wonderful news for Indiana, the region and Tipton County.
“You share our excitement,” Havens said. “This was a great team effort and an interesting economic development story.”
He said the investment by Chrysler is a great opportunity for Tipton County.
“Chrysler belongs in the Tipton facility,” he said. “We want Chrysler to call our community home.”
Mike Cline, president of the Tipton County Board of Commissioners, said Thursday was an extraordinary day and exciting for all residents of the county.
“The jobs will make a huge difference to many families,” Cline said. “We look forward to a long and prosperous partnership with Chrysler.”
Following the announcement, Havens said the 850 jobs at the Tipton County facility will make Chrysler the largest employer in the county by threefold.
Havens said city and county officials are working together on a work force enhancement program.
“We want to get additional educational training in the county,” he said. “We want people from Tipton County to be viable candidates for these jobs.”
Cline said there is the possibility for expansion of the Tipton facility in the future.
“Early on, we didn’t anticipate this announcement,” he said. “When we saw possibilities, we started to have hope and optimism.”
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