U.S. Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) paid a visit yesterday to Dometic Corp.’s Elkhart, Ind., facility, where the gubernatorial candidate and RV industry insider visited with employees and learned of the company’s commitment to training, product development and the RV arena’s long-term future.
Noting that the Dometic visit was an “official Senate stop to see what your issues are in terms of all the things we do at the federal level,” Braun served as a state legislator for three years (2014–2017) before his Senate seat and, now, his run for governor. “So, it all kind of comes together in terms of how you can help the state,” he said.
“And I’m real familiar with the industry, of course,” added the former CEO of Meyer Distributing Inc., a nationwide RV, automotive, marine and powersports distributor based in Jasper, Ind., a job from which he resigned when he was sworn into the U.S. Senate in 2018. “But I still connect with the business at the office that I originally had before we moved to a different corporate headquarters. That’s when it went from 15 employees to where we finally had a warehouse back in ’98.”
Hosting the candidate was a team of more than a dozen Dometic representatives, including Senior OEM Business Development Manager Brent Clark, Senior OEM Account Manager Mark Wolschlager, Technical Service & Training Manager Crystal Miller, and HR Director Susan Mazurkiewicz.
Clark served as the primary tour guide, providing an explanation of Dometic’s overall status as well as its RV-specific operations, which still include a lengthy list of refrigeration, sanitation, air conditioning and other RV products.
He noted Dometic’s “legacy” within the industry, bolstered by its recent acquisitions such as Valterra Products, Zamp Solar, Go Power! and Igloo coolers that have also enabled the Sweden-based firm to extend its reach into outdoor living and mobile power markets.
Clark pointed out that the County Road #17 facility is actually the Elkhart base of Dometic Corp.’s North American RV-specific operations that includes some 350 employees and 11 locations, the U.S. corporate headquarters of which are located in Rosemont, Ill., in suburban Chicago.
Again, Braun is no stranger to the RV industry with his ties to Meyer Distributing, a business that was founded as Meyer Body Company in 1937 by Leo Meyer before Braun and a business partner acquired it in 1986. Braun became sole owner in 1995. The prominent distributor currently employs over 800 people and operates nearly 100 warehousing and distribution locations across the U.S. and Canada.
Braun said he has “very little” equity today in the company, which at this point is managed by two of his sons who have been there about 15 years, Jeff Braun, the new CEO, and Jason, the company’s chief technology officer. Also involved is one of his two daughters, Kristen, who started with Meyer about seven years ago and currently works with HR and real estate.
“We’re grown in business 20% a year for 40 years,” said Braun,” and some years more than that – hardly ever under than 10%.”
When asked why his interest in succeeding the term-limited Eric Holcomb as governor of Indiana versus running for another term in the U.S. Senate, Braun said he feels he can bring about more positive change for Hoosiers from Indianapolis than Washington D.C.
While he’s a “big believer at the federal level,” Braun said term limits are necessary. And despite the involvement of some “movers and shakers,” Congress produces $2 trillion in annual deficits. “I’ve been a scrappy entrepreneur that has lived the American dream and I think we need to get back to that and then have a system,” Braun said.
He also pointed out that his Senate office has been one of the most effective Republican offices, having handled more than 10,000 constituent cases while getting legislation passed in agriculture, education and healthcare.
“That begs the question, why wouldn’t you stay there? Well, because life is never simple,” he said. “It’s either another term for senate, or governor, which happens at the same time. I think that place (Washington, D.C.), due to its financial condition and the stubbornness to change it – and that’s among Republicans and Democrats – is going to make it a place that’s going to have to have more hard knocks before it fixes itself.
“And to me, I thought I could do more good back here showing how you can take a pretty good state and even make it better in some of the areas we’ve talked about,” Braun said.
At one point during the tour, Dometic’s Miller provided an overview of the company’s technical service and training operations in which she and her team regularly host dealer technicians at the Elkhart facility while providing instruction at up to 70 locations in the field throughout the year. She mentioned that she works in collaboration with the RV Technical Institute in Elkhart and the National RV Training Academy near Dallas, Texas.
The topic of career technical education (CTE) training is among Braun’s campaign priorities. “The biggest issue I heard pre-COVID – and it’s worse now – is CTE workforce training,” he said. “That is a challenge for any business operating in Indiana, and we’re the biggest manufacturing state per capita. We were the crossroads of America for logistics, and we don’t do that quite well enough through our K through 12.
“And one of the things I hope to change if I’m elected governor is to make workforce training a priority, starting in middle school and through high school, to where we generate more basic life skills regardless of the degree, the employment or if you want to enlist,” Braun continued.
“When I went through school, you could take industrial arts, you could take engine mechanics, you’d learn to weld. You had a metal shop, you had a wood shop, you had home economics. You had a variety of things that were useful – not to mention, maybe, finance 101 and more attention to civics as you get through high school. So, you’re prepared to be a better worker, head of a family,” he added.
Related to that, Braun bemoaned the “push through guidance counselors that the only way you can be successful is to get a four-year degree,” adding that more STEM degrees – in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics – are necessary. “And then we produce a lot of degrees that don’t have a market in our state and then we’re losing talent,” he pointed out.
Braun’s visit to Dometic came about largely due to his regional director, Mary Martin, who, along with several Dometic managers, attended last May’s 2023 RV Industry Power Breakfast, which provided an opportunity for Braun to continue his Senate campaign pledge to visit all of Indiana’s 92 counties. “I’ve enjoyed it and have been doing it now through four and a half years. We got about another 15 to check off this year,” Braun mentioned.
“And I’ve offered any Hoosier to be able to visit me in my hometown on a Friday. There’s no senator, no governor that’s ever done that. And that was for two purposes: First, I don’t have to travel that day. People can’t believe that you can come visit your senator. If I’m elected governor, it’ll be the same way,” he continued. “And, secondly, you learn a lot. I pick up so much information when I am home from D.C. I don’t go on the taxpayer-paid vacations. I come back and travel the state, visit all 92 counties, see what’s working, what isn’t.”