TIPTON, Ind. (AP) -- Chrysler's Tipton Transmission Plant, a sprawling factory seven years in the making, was dedicated Tuesday during an event that celebrated the promise of 850 jobs.
"Finally!" Tipton Mayor Don Havens exclaimed, summing up the collective feeling of the community and its workers after watching other employers emerge for the plant site along U.S. 31 south of Kokomo and then disappear.
The plant, which currently employs 200 workers transferred from Chrysler's four other plants in the Kokomo area, will build the automaker's fuel-efficient, nine-speed transmission. When it reaches full capacity, forecast for next year, it is expected to employ 850 workers and ship about 800,000 finished transmissions to Toledo, Ohio, for the Jeep Cherokee and to Sterling Heights, Michigan, for the Chrysler 200. It also will supply FIAT plants in Italy, Turkey, Brazil and China.
"This opening has been a long time coming," said. "In fact seven years ago and two false starts. But now that it is a reality, it is expected to employ 600 people and produce 400,000 transmissions by the end of this year."
The factory was under construction for seven years and went through two other tenants before reaching its dedication. Chrysler and German auto parts maker Getrag originally had a deal that would have employed 1,400 workers and built the $580 million plant together, but the two parted ways after a financial dispute that ended with both companies filing bankruptcy in 2009.
A solar parts company was then poised to take over the building, but it too filed for bankruptcy.
Chrysler is investing about $160 million to finish the plant.
United Auto Workers Local 685 President Rich Boruff teared up as he spoke.
"Thank you for allowing us to keep our dignity and raise our children as we wish," Boruff said before he and Marchionne embraced in a long hug.
Workers gave them a standing ovation.
"Hopefully I can pay for my son's college tuition now," employee Chris Hoyer told WTHR-TV. "I went from six figures to $40,000 when we almost went through bankruptcy seven years ago."