Chrysler's two-minute Super Bowl XLVI commercial had actor Clint Eastwood declaring America's "second half's about to begin." In Belvidere, Ill., that second half could include nearly 3,000 auto jobs.
Most of them will come to Chrysler's Belvidere Assembly Plant, where the automaker announced last Thursday it would hire 1,800 employees to help build the soon-to-be-released Dodge Dart. George Welitschinsky, president at one of Belvidere's two United Auto Workers' locals, estimated the plant's nine local suppliers would add another 1,000 employees to support the extra capacity.
Chrysler currently employs 2,714 at its 280-acre assembly and stamping plants in Belvidere, which is some 70 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. The extra jobs would mean a third shift, bringing total plant employment to more than 4,500. That's the most ever employed at the plant, Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said.Belvidere has endured its share of uncertainty, with production idled in early 2009 as Chrysler worked through bankruptcy. But things turned around. The Michigan automaker came under Fiat control in mid-2009, and U.S. sales improved in 2010 and 2011. On Feb. 1, the company announced its first annual net profit since 1997. Chrysler has pledged investments of $700 million to build future models at Belvidere; that's welcome news for a facility whose history dates back to 1965. Employee Al Kneeland, who works in waste reduction, notes that the plant has been home to 21 models in its 47-year history. It's now turning out more than 1,000 cars a day over two shifts.
The Dart's platform — known as "compact U.S. wide" — is modular enough to accommodate a compact or midsize car, Chrysler spokeswoman Kathy Graham said. It's distinct from the Patriot and Compass, which shared underpinnings with the Caliber. Beginning this spring, the Dart will originate in Belvidere's new 638,000-square-foot body shop. For the time being, the Dart, Compass and Patriot will roll off the same assembly line.
The Caliber ceased production two months ago, and the future of the Compass and Patriot is in question. Either way, Chrysler will have enough models with the Dart to fill capacity, CEO Sergio Marchionne said.
"It's my distinct desire to roll out three shifts everywhere," he said. "This plant will be fully loaded. Trust me."