Marlin Stutzman

A group of eight RV industry executives met Thursday (April 12) evening with two freshmen Republican U.S. Congressmen at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Mishawaka, Ind., in what amounted to a “bridge-building” session for both sides.

The meeting was called by U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, a farmer from Howe in LaGrange County just east of Elkhart whose 3rd District includes much of Elkhart County, and Congressman Larry Buchson, a heart surgeon from Newburgh in southern Indiana’s 8th District and a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) staff had a hand in pulling together the get-to-know-you session, according to Gregg Fore, current chairman of RVIA and president of Elkhart, Ind.-based Dicor Corp. “The primary goal, as I had talked to Marlin Stutzman about this some months ago, was about trying to find an opportunity to get some RV folks together to meet with him because he had not had the opportunity to do that since he had been elected to office,” said Fore.

Stutzman, who currently serves on the House Committees on Agriculture, Budget, and Veterans’ Affairs, says Buchson’s seat on the Transportation makes his role rather pivotal for Elkhart County’s RV contingent.

“Yeah, I had been working with Congressman Buchson, and the RV industry had an issue with trailer-axle weights, and he was willing to take the lead on that and actually get the issue into the transportation bill to promote the RV industry,” said Stutzman, whose own father once worked for Coachmen Industries Inc. “So last night, I thought it would be helpful both to folks in the RV industry and to Congressmen Buchson to have the opportunity to sit down and meet each other and build those bridges and work together with myself and Larry and folks in the RV industry. We had a great visit and we’re looking forward to working together in the future as well.”

Among the topics discussed: A stymied transportation bill, formaldehyde issues, energy policy, the economy, the budget — or a lack thereof — and potential standards issues affecting recreational park trailers.

Doug Gaeddert, a general manager for Elkhart-based Forest River Inc. and 1st vice-chairman of RVIA, said it was time well spent. “It was productive and they’re (the two freshmen Congressmen) far more educated than they were before we got there. All in all, it looks like both of them ran for public office for the right reasons.”

“They were very interested in learning more about the industry, getting an update on industry trends as well as any challenges and difficulties we were facing that might impede our progress,” added RVIA Public Relations Committee Chairman B.J. Thompson, president of BJ Thompson Associates, Mishawaka.

Suffice to say that this probably isn’t the last the industry has heard from Stutzman, who’s unopposed in the primaries but faces re-election this fall against any one of six Democrats, as a potential political ally.

“No, absolutely not,” said Stutzman. “I have an agriculture background and also a trucking industry background, and we used to haul cargo trailers and other products for the RV industry when we were in the trucking business. So, obviously it’s a huge part of our economy in northern Indiana. And, with friends and neighbors that work in the industry, I know how important the RV industry is to our economy and also to the lives of people in our community. So this is something that I feel very passionately about, and the hard work and the values of the RV industry are the kinds of things we want to promote and support as much as we can.”