Chrysler Will Add 1,600 Jobs in Illinois

In last week’s State of the Union Address, President Obama made Detroit’s rebound one of his primary economic themes. And Detroit is doing its best to keep the momentum going, especially in terms of hiring new workers. The latest hopeful sign is word that Chrysler is set to add 1,600 employees at the Illinois assembly plant where the Fiat-owned carmaker is building its new compact Dodge Dart.

Domestic counterparts General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Ford (NYSE:F) have also been adding to payrolls as the auto industry enjoys a long-awaited sales boom that has seen GM retake the title of world’s largest carmaker, supplanting Toyota (NYSE:TM). The Japanese carmaker had snatched GM’s crown during the recession that nearly ended the iconic carmaker’s very existence.

According to the Center for Automotive Research, overall employment at U.S. auto plants and parts factories will climb 10% to about 650,000 in 2012, reaching 756,800 by 2015. That compares favorably to the 550,000 auto industry jobs during the Great Recession. But chances are that Detroit will never again see employment at the 1 million-plus level that it was just a decade ago.

A report in The Wall Street Journal says Chrylser will announce the new hiring plan this Thursday when Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne is scheduled to visit the Belvidere assembly plant, which also makes the Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot. Marchionne told the Journal in December that “We have to put in more than one shift in a variety of plants. If we’re going to move up to producing 2.4 million cars I need to make them somewhere. . . . It’s not as if I’m turning on more plants. I don’t have any.”

Chrysler may someday decide it needs more plants. But for now at least, adding workers to existing plants is good news enough for America’s labor market.

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