ELKHART — It’s official. As of Wednesday morning, Aug. 14, Thor Industries is centered in the heart of Elkhart.
“We’re proud to be part of the downtown area,” said Bob Martin, Thor president and chief executive officer, standing next to company co-founder and chairman Peter Orthwein. The company and the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting to officially open the headquarters of one of the top players in the recreational vehicle industry.
“The building had been empty for six years,” Martin said of the site at 601 E. Beardsley Ave., a spot with a view of the St. Joseph River and Island Park. “A lot of people in the community had noticed that it was empty here. People have known it as the Coachmen building or something like that from many years ago, so we wanted to put our own touches on it,” he said. “We’re very proud of all this.”
Kyle Hannon, president of the chamber, said, “This is very cool.”
Hannon called the building “a monument to beautiful buildings, it’s a monument to corporate headquarters in Elkhart, it’s a monument to the RV industry.”
Dick Moore, Elkhart’s mayor, welcomed Orthwein, and said, “We recognize Thor, of course, as a leader in the RV industry and how important it is to stimulating our economy with all of the jobs that you do.”
Moore also said, “We’re just so very pleased that you’re here.”
“We’re proud to be part of Elkhart, we’re proud to be part of the community and we’re proud to have our corporate offices in downtown Elkhart,” said Martin, who grew up in Elkhart and Bristol.
In fact, Martin got his start at Coachmen, and now his office is in the same spot once occupied by the head of Coachmen.
“A lot of people, I’ve had people just pop in that actually worked with me at Coachmen that worked out of this office. They can’t believe the changes. They find it very interesting to see that we’re in here and that it’s alive and vibrant.”
While Thor’s headquarters are here, it represents a small fraction of the company’s 9,000 employees. Only 35 work in the headquarters building, but thousands work in and around Elkhart County, making a formal move here a matter of common sense.
“It makes sense to be right here in central Elkhart,” Martin said. “I can be just about anywhere, one of our companies, in a half-hour, most of them in 10 minutes.” When Orthwein comes to town, it’s an easy starting point to visit nearly all of the company’s RV manufacturing subsidiaries, other than Ohio-based Airstream. “Centrally located, we can do it all in almost a day, maybe two,” Martin said.
Orthwein and the late Wade Thompson built Thor by acquiring companies, and Martin said this location helps that, since Thor is an RV company. “As we look at other acquisitions it makes sense to be right here in Elkhart,” he said.
The specific location is a part of Elkhart history, too, said Moore. “Most likely Pierre Moran or one of his ancestors stood right here and looked at that river.”