For seven years, the city of Tipton has been waiting for Chrysler to start work at the transmission plant that the automaker helped to build.
After years of disappointment, the waiting ended Tuesday with a dedication. Workers are building more than automotive transmissions. They say they’re building hope, for them their children and their communities.
"New jobs, new plant. It's amazing," said Chrysler employee Janna Babb.
This plant has been through the ringer in a county that's struggled economically with an unemployment rate as high as ten percent.
Five years ago, it was on the verge of folding. Employees feared their work days were numbered.
"Hopefully I can pay for my son's college tuition now. I went from six figures to $40,000 when we almost went through bankruptcy seven years ago," said employee Chris Hoyer.
Most of the 200 workers already here transferred from Chrysler plants in Kokomo. The automaker promises another 650 workers by the end of the next year.
"Finally!" exclaimed Tipton Mayor Don Havens.
He spoke for the entire community.
The facility was under construction for seven years and went through two false starts before reaching this point. Chrysler and German auto parts maker Getrag originally had a deal that would have employed 1,400. They 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.
Now, Chrysler is back - and they say better than ever. They plan to invest $162 million in the plant, making 800,000 transmissions a year. Two hundred workers are already on the job; 850 are expected by next year. Some of those workers are transferring in from Chrysler's Kokomo plants where they're being replaced by new workers, according to Chrysler.
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne praised workers for making the deal work.
"You are, and I mean this sincerely, you are the authors of a major success story," Marchionne told the employees.
UAW members gave their boss a standing ovation. Then, local union president Rich Bourff teared up and struggled with his words.
"Thank you for allowing us to keep our dignity and raise our children as we wish," he said.
Marchionne waved off a handshake. The two men hugged a long time while the crowd applauded.
The impact of this plant will be much greater than just Tipton County. It is typical that at a plant this size, with these jobs, people will drive an hour or more - making that commute every day in each direction - just to get one of these good jobs.
Tipton, though, is already feeling the economic effects. Faye's Northside Café, a small business on the town square, is seeing an increase in business. The breakfast crowd there this morning sees a promising future for their community and their families.
"Glad to see more automotive," said one patron. "Big industry like automotive, in my opinion, is what got this country going in the first place. I mean, they had good paying jobs, you could go support your family, put your kids through college, and those kind of jobs are hard to find anymore."
Local high schools and their students are also benefiting from the new plant. Chrysler says 40 percent of its workforce will retire in the next 15 years. The automaker is partnering with nine schools to give students the training, college credit and paid internships needed to fill the advanced manufacturing jobs.