DSC_3732Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly took a break from the rigors of Washington, D.C. Monday (Feb. 20) to visit a front-line RV industry supplier, Robert Weed Plywood Corp. in Bristol, Ind., where he spent time at a variety of work stations learning about the work-a-day regimen that employees of the 50-year-old, family-held business experience on a day-to-day basis.

Donnelly, a centrist Democrat who faces reelection in 2018, also answered questions for inquisitive members of the regional press on a number of topics including import tariffs, immigration, health insurance and the ongoing nomination process for Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Bristol stop at the fabricator and wholesale distributor of wood, composite and associated products — a majority of it going to the RV arena — was part of an ongoing series of “Donnelly Day” appearances through which the first-term U.S. senator works alongside Hoosiers in a variety of jobs and professions in communities across Indiana to garner press coverage and gain a greater understanding of the issues most relevant to Hoosier workers.

DSC_3759“It’s a pretty interesting thing, what Senator Donnelly’s doing here,” said Robert Weed COO Mark Fiquett, noting that Robert Weed is an exemplary employer that provides a safe environment, good wages and free medical benefits for its employees. “It’s a great opportunity for him to get out and see what his constituents do and see first-hand how politics impact what we do in business and maybe how to create a better marriage between those two things. It’s not often that we get an opportunity to see something like this in our facility.

“It’s also a great opportunity for our people to reach out and touch him and for him to show our people that Washington cares, that politicians care about what we do here,” noted Fiquett, adding that Robert Weed has 400 employees, 350 in its Bristol facilities, the rest in two Idaho locations. “It’s not just a place in the middle of a Red State that nobody thinks about.”

DSC_3786Donnelly, when all was said and done, answered media questions in a brief press conference in a parking lot outside the company’s human resources department.

“I just wanted to thank everybody at Robert Weed Plywood,” said Donnelly. “The RV industry has been doing extraordinarily well – record numbers of shipments at the present time, and we’re hoping that that will continue. The reason why (it’s doing so well) is because of hard work, entrepreneurship, the people who work in these plants, the folks who run these businesses. And the reason that customers are so in love with these products now is the incredible quality and the happiness it creates for their families to vacation and bond with each other.

“I was privileged to be here at Robert Weed to work with the folks on the floor and to see their dedication, their hard work and just how proud they are with the things they do.”

DSC_3601On more political topics, Donnelly spoke about promoting skills training through Workforce Development Acts in Congress, about finding the best outcome for national health care and coping in Congress with the debate over potential new import tariffs promoted by the Trump administration. “I read some comments by (South Carolina Republican Sen.) Lindsey Graham yesterday, and he said that as far as he was concerned the house tax bill that’s being put together he felt wouldn’t get 10 votes in the Senate. And so we’re going to work to put something together that helps our businesses continue to succeed.

“But at the same time, we also want to make sure that other companies aren’t dumping their products here, that we don’t have — like we do in the steel industry — China and India and others dumping products here at low cost, which is damaging to our jobs in Northern Indiana.

“And so what we want to do is be able to compete on a fair playing field, and when we do, the RV industry and the steel industries win. All of our companies win.”