Ron Breymier, executive director of the Indiana Manufactured Housing Housing Association-Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council Inc. (IMHA-RVIC), and Ken Eckstein, owner of Mount Comfort RV and immediate past president of IMHA-RVIC, took a dozen representatives of the Indiana National Guard and the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs on a Friday (Feb. 24) tour of RV and manufactured housing builders in northern Indiana.
The move was spawned by previous conversations with the Indiana National Guard and various veterans groups as Breymeier and Eckstein realized that members might be able to fill one of the RV industry’s most pressing needs: quality workers.
The day-long event included a factory tour at Jayco Inc. in Middlebury and a meeting with LCI Industries leaders, along with a lunch hosted by Dave Besinger of Forest River Inc. and Les Thimlar of Thor Industries Inc. at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury.
The goal, according to Eckstein, is to make win-win connections. “We have 16,000 guard members, many of them unemployed or underemployed, and in the RV industry we’ve got spots for them. We also have 400,000 veterans, and we want to connect some of them with jobs in the RV industry.”
Breymier noted, “There are thousands of jobs going unfilled in the RV industry, so we approached Jim Brown, director of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, and we also approached the Indiana National Guard Association. Working together with those two units and the National Guard itself, we are trying to provide a pipeline of employment opportunities for veterans and guard members to bring them to northern Indiana and help fill the vacancies in the factories.”
Brown believes that it’s a natural partnership for his department and the guard to team up with the RV industry. “We have a list of veterans,” he said. “If we know what’s required in the factories we’ve seen, we’re comfortable pushing people their way.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Gordon of the Indiana National Guard said the RV industry is a natural fit for guardsmen and reservists. “With Indiana having the sixth largest national guard, we have people who are always looking for jobs and some looking for better jobs and careers,” he explained. “Part of retaining soldiers in the National Guard and Reserves, if we can’t find them a job in Indiana, they’re going to move to Ohio or Michigan.”
The initiative can help draw active military members to northern Indiana when they leave the service, since fully a third are open to locating anywhere they can find work when they get out of the service, Gordon noted, adding that the Indiana National Guard is actively recruiting those people to come to the state.
Brown stressed that recently discharged military personnel are used to working with a team and they also have access to home-ownership programs that enables them able to settle near their jobs.
Gordon also pointed out that guard members have access to excellent insurance, which benefits smaller companies that have a tough time providing insurance coverage to employees.
Breymier said, “This is a way for us to work together to really make something happen, both for the industry and for the military.”