MIDDLEBURY — U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, during a tour of the region Wednesday, celebrated the explosive growth of Grand Design RV as an example of manufacturing vitality in northern Indiana.
“One of the reasons I decided to run for Senate was that it gives me the benefit to see stories like this, and we have so many of them all around our state,” the junior senator from Indiana said during a visit to the facility.
As a 38-year business owner himself, Braun commended Grand Design RV and CEO Don Clark on the swift growth of the company. Since Grand Design launched in 2013, it has grown from just 35 employees to 1,700 and will produce its 100,000th unit this summer.
“My growth occurred over 38 years, and I know what a brisk pace that was,” Braun said. “Generally when you grow quickly, there can be a lot of loose ends. You have managed not to have many loose ends or you wouldn’t be able to do what you’re doing.”
Braun, a Republican from downstate Jasper, said recreational vehicles involve a different product than his – manufacturing and distributing truck parts and accessories – “but the same principles apply everywhere.”
“You want government – whether it’s your state or federal government – to create an environment that’s going to make this work,” he said. “Businesses have the responsibility of doing the right thing and investing in your employees.”
Braun said tax reforms have allowed companies like his and Clark’s to raise employee wages while lowering health care costs. He said caring for his employees allowed his company to have minimal turnover.
Clark said he appreciated the attention of the senator.
“It is meaningful because he is an entrepreneurial spirit,” Clark said. “He’s grown his own company and he’s felt the woes of business during economic downturns. The fact that he came here and is learning about the ups and downs of the RV industry, it bodes well for us, but it also bodes well for him.”
Braun said the cyclic patterns of the RV industry are manageable.
“For us, it created the greatest moment of opportunity,” he said. “If you lead your business in a way to where you can take any downturn – you’re going to have a little short term pain and you will more so in a more cyclical industry like RVs verses selling groceries – you’re going to find that if you run your business in a good way, you’ll get through it and you will find more opportunity.”
In Elkhart, Braun also visited Ethos Innovation Center to learn more about how students are being trained for future jobs by getting a science, technology, engineering and mathematics – or STEM – education. He also planned to visit the RV/MH Hall of Fame for a roundtable discussion with industry executives before finishing his day at LaGrange Public Library for coffee with the community.
Prior to his trip through Elkhart County, Braun visited Grissom Air Force Base, Logansport Memorial Hospital Radiation Oncology Center, Homestead Dairy in Plymouth and the Donald C. Cook Nuclear Power Plant.
On Thursday, Braun planned to visit Trine University in Angola, Kraft Foods in Kendallville, Onward Manufacturing Company in Huntington and Wells County for another community coffee chat in Bluffton.
“Recreational vehicles and motorhomes are one of (Indiana’s) largest industries,” Braun said. “Indiana has more manufacturing GDP and jobs than any other state.”
In a news release regarding his Northern Indiana Jobs Tour, Braun called northern Indiana, as a whole, a “manufacturing powerhouse,” adding that he hoped the tour would be an opportunity to see how President Trump’s tax cuts were helping small-business owners in the area and discover what else can be done to help them grow and continue to develop the economy.