Employees at the Chrysler Plant in Belvidere, Ill., listen as Sergio Marchionne, chairman and CEO of Chrysler Group LLC, announces that Chrysler will add a third shift to begin production of the 2013 Dodge Dart, Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012 in Belvidere. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Updated: March 4, 2012 8:13AM
Chrysler plans to add 1,800 jobs and a third shift this year at its Belividere plant, located about 70 miles northwest of Chicago and where it now employs about 2,700 workers in an area with the state’s highest unemployment rate.
Chrysler Group LLC Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne joined Gov. Pat Quinn in unveiling the company’s plans at the plant Thursday.
The jobs are expected to be filled by the end of the summer.
About 500 of the workers will produce the new Dodge Dart, and the remainder will work on the Jeep Compass and Liberty models, the company said.
The last time the plant ran a third shift was in 2008, when it employed about 3,600 workers. Chrysler laid off almost 1,000 employees in Belvidere that year before emerging from bankruptcy in 2009 with new owners, including majority stakeholder Italy-based Fiat SpA.
Chrysler, which in 2010 announced plans to invest $600 million in a new state-of-the-art body shop at the plant, also said Thursday that investment has grown to nearly $700 million. The investment included the installation of new machinery, tooling and equipment exclusively for the production of the Dodge Dart.
The news, some said, should provide financial and psychological boosts to a region — including nearby Rockford — more accustomed to headlines about layoffs, closures and large numbers of unemployed residents. Boone County, where the plant is, had a state-high unemployment rate of 14 percent in December. In January 2010, the rate was 22 percent. Winnebago County, where Rockford is, had a jobless rate of 12.2 percent last month.
Marchionne acknowledged the area’s struggles when he spoke to several hundred workers assembled at the plant.
“I know that times you’ve endured in the recent past were not easy,” he said.
Quinn cheered the creation of more manufacturing jobs in an area where Chrysler is the largest employer and just over 19 percent of the local workforce is employed in manufacturing.
The jobs are tied to more than $60 million in state tax breaks and other incentives given to Chrysler in 2010.
“Manufacturing is the key part of our American economy and our Illinois economy,” Quinn said.
Chrysler on Wednesday reported its first annual net profit since 1997. It earned $183 million in 2011, reversing a $652 million loss in 2010.
Union workers at Chrysler will get profit-sharing checks next month of about $1,500, according to an Associated Press analysis of Chrysler’s earnings and the company’s contract with the United Auto Workers union.
Those interested in working at the Belvidere plant can apply online at www.hourlychryslerjobs.com. Assembly line operator jobs have a starting salary of $15.78 an hour. Salaried and skilled trades positions can be found at www.chryslercareers.com.
Chrysler joins automaker Ford Motor Co. in adding workers and making investments in Illinois. Ford is adding a third shift and roughly 1,200 jobs at its Chicago assembly plant on Torrence Avenue in the second quarter of this year.
Last year, Ford pledged to invest $117 million at the plant and $86 million at its Chicago Heights stamping plant. Since the latter part of 2011, it has invested about $38 million at the assembly plant to prepare for production of its new Police Interceptor vehicles.
To be eligible to apply for the third shift jobs at Ford, interested persons must register with the Illinois Department of Employment Security by entering their resume into the department’s Illinois JobLink at www.illinoisjoblink.com. Ford will be able to review resumes there for future hires.
Contributing: Francine Knowles