By the time next year’s Toledo Jeep Fest rolls around, the region will have added more than 1,000 new automotive jobs, and the Toledo Assembly Complex will be back at full tilt building the next version of the venerated Jeep Wrangler.
So forget — for just a moment — all the history. Toledo isn’t just Jeep’s birthplace and a point of local pride. It’s also major part of Jeep’s future.
That, event organizers say, is key to what they’re trying to do in August, 2018, with the second Toledo Jeep Fest.
“We’re not only celebrating our past, which is pretty much what we did last year. We’re also at the same time embracing a very exciting future for Jeep in Toledo, Ohio,” Bruce Baumhower, president of UAW Local 12, said Thursday at a Jeep Fest news conference held downtown at Levis Square.
The Toledo Jeep Fest Steering Committee hit pause after last year’s successful event, which drew 40,000 visitors and more than 1,100 Jeep vehicles. Organizers said that was done in part because they wanted to wait for the local Jeep plant, where some 3,200 employees are on a temporary layoff, to spin back up. They also wanted to give time for some major downtown redevelopment projects to be completed.
As they look to 2018, the timing is right to bring the event back.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is in the midst of a $700 million investment in its Jeep plant here. FCA has said 700 jobs will be created; Mr. Baumhower said 450 will be full-time positions filled from the ranks of FCA’s pool of temporary workers that have been helping at the plant for the past several years. FCA also will be hiring new temps to keep that pool well supplied, he said.
Fiat Chrysler’s investment also has spurred a number of other investments that will lead to new jobs.
Dana Inc. is building an axle plant that will employ up to 300 people. Detroit Manufacturing Systems, which is also building a new plant, will hire 200-plus people to make interior parts for the Wrangler. Michigan-based Syncreon announced in late July it would hire 270 people to sequence parts for the Jeep plant.
Mr. Baumhower said Syncreon’s number could be closer to 400. He also has heard that Adient — formerly Johnson Controls — is likely to add to its workforce, currently at 500.
All off that is happening because Fiat Chrysler committed to keeping the Wrangler in Toledo, even as it globalizes its manufacturing.
“They’re building Jeeps all around the world,” Mr. Baumhower said. “They made the decision, because of the iconic Jeep, because of this community, because of the workforce, that the Jeep Wrangler and the new Jeep Wrangler pickup truck that’s coming out will only be built in Toledo, Ohio.”
And while the 2018 Toledo Jeep Fest, scheduled for Aug. 10-12, will be a local celebration, its reach is far more broad. Last year’s event drew from 14 states and Canada. Organizers say they have a real opportunity to make Jeep Fest a truly global event.
“The Marathon Classic is national. Here we’ve got something different. This is global. And we’re just in the infancy,” said Cindy Kerr, Downtown Toledo Improvement District executive director and a member of the event’s steering committee.
The Toledo Jeep Fest is certainly not the only celebration of the brand, nor is it the largest in terms of vehicles. The Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival in Butler, Pa., drew about twice as many Jeeps last year, as did the annual Jeep Blessing near Cadillac, Mich.
But local Jeepers who have been to the Michigan event say Toledo’s first go-round was more impressive.
“They’ve been doing that for 16 years. We did this last year and we had 40,000-some people. That’s what more than they’ve ever seen,” said D.J. Goralske, a member of the Glass City Crawlers who brought his modified 2009 Wrangler to the kickoff press conference on Thursday. “I think it’s great we’re keeping the festival — something this big — in the hometown of where Jeep was born and raised.”
Last year’s event brought with it between $2.7 million and $3.4 million in estimated economic activity. Lucas County Commissioner Carol Contrada said officials think they could triple that with the 2018 event, which will expand Jeep Fest into a weekend-long event.
Showcasing Toledo isn’t lost on organizers.
“It’s a great opportunity to showcase the improvements and the changes in the downtown area. It’s a neat place. A lot of folks, I think, that we brought through last year were just as impressed with the downtown Toledo area as they were with the ability to meet and share some camaraderie with their fellow Jeepers,” said Jerry Huber, chairman of the Toledo Jeep Fest Steering Committee and a well-liked former manager of the Toledo Jeep plant.
Organizers hope to raise $300,000 to put on the event. They’re working on sponsorships now.
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