Wednesday (May 29) was an unusually busy political day in Northern Indiana as the Hoosier States’ two first-term U.S. senators, Republicans Mike Braun and Todd Young, were both in the area — with Congress adjourned — for visits with constituents including area RV industry leaders. (To view a slideshow scroll to the Industry Videos section on the RVBUSINESS.com home page. (Photos by Shawn Spence).
The day started with a breakfast for Young at the Uptown Kitchen in the South Bend suburb of Granger where the first-term senator related some of his latest insights from Washington, D.C., to a small group of breakfast diners that included Forest River Inc. General Manager Don Gunden, ASA Electronics CEO Tom Irions, RV Industry Association (RVIA) Chairman and Cummins Inc. executive Garry Enyart, RVIA Vice President of Government Affairs Jay Landers, BJ Thompson Associates President BJ Thompson and Grand Design RV President and CEO Don Clark.
Although Young expressed excitement about the positive current state of the economy, breakfast attendees told RVBUSINESS.com he also acknowledged the difficulty in getting some things done these days amid the partisanship that currently exists in Congress. Consequently, he told the group, 2020 general election voters may well have to settle for the “less bad” alternatives among the electoral candidates.
While Young headed off to address a school crowd in South Bend at which he promoted legislation limiting cigarette sales to individuals 21 years of age or more, Braun, the former Meyer Distributing Inc. executive who’s sons still run his southern Indiana automotive and RV parts distributorship, headed out to the rural Middlebury, Ind., facilities of recreational vehicle builder Grand Design Recreational Vehicles.
After a standing ovation from the 1,700-employee company’s office staff and a private meeting with Clark, Braun took a tour of Plant 9 where Solitude fifth-wheels are manufactured. It’s a plant that the company has outgrown, Clark told Braun, to the extent that ground work is currently underway on a new 180,000-square-foot facility next door that’s due for completion by the end of the year.
Braun and Clark, in turn, addressed Grand Design’s employees as well as the media. Clark introduced his staff and reviewed existing sales trends. Both were then asked by WNDU’s Karina Flores during the Grand Design plant tour how the industry’s doing right now following reports in Elkhart County of “layoffs at multiple manufacturers across the area.” They told WNDU that the industry is “simply leveling off” and advised the South Bend TV station that the current dip in sales is “nothing to worry about.”
“You’re going to have a little short-term pain and, if you will, more so in a more cyclical industry like RVs versus selling groceries,” said Braun, whose appearance was facilitated in part by Elkhart-based BJ Thompson, the former RVIA Public Relations Committee chair. “But you’re going to find that if you run your business in a good way, you’ll get through it and you’ll find more opportunity than you do trouble.”
“It’s leveled off and maybe it’s just softened a little bit, but certainly not like an economic downturn,” added Clark. “The economy’s still strong. Factors that would influence our customers’ buying decisions are still very, very positive.”
Braun and five staff members then appeared at an afternoon “Roundtable” discussion with several of the same RV industry representatives on hand at Elkhart’s RV/MH Hall of Fame board room at which Braun touched on a series of topics, including tariffs, health care, federal infrastructure improvements, budget reform and immigration.
Tariffs, by far, were the hottest topic on the table — a political hot potato on which Braun tends to support President Trump’s position. Look for more on all that in the July/August issue of RVBusiness.
Suffice to say that the day, for all intents and purposes, went well. “Oh, fantastic,” said Thompson. “I think that everyone benefited all the way around in finding opportunities for common ground. And I think that happened today at all three meetings, the Young breakfast, the Roundtable and the Braun visit to Grand Design, which wonderfully represented the RV industry with their company success story, their dedication to quality and their intelligent way of operating a business.”