Donnelly Pulls Some Shift Work at TMC Plant
Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, on summer break from Congress, toured Thor Motor Coach’s Axis and Vegas recreation utility vehicles (RUV) production facility Monday (Aug. 4) in Elkhart, Ind. After turning a few screws and smoothing out a few stickers, Donnelly also spoke with the media on immigration and veterans’ issues as well as the resurgence of the RV industry.
“I did my best. I was a little slower than some of the other workers,” he said. “It was great to be on the line, to be working with them. Every morning all of these dedicated people get up to build an amazing product that you see behind me, and a product that brings a smile to the faces of people all over the country.”
The first-term Democrat from South Bend started his work assignment by donning safety goggles and a blue TMC shirt, and then listened intently as TMC Group Leader Andy Hygema started him on a 45-minute work shift.
With a brand new Vegas RUV sandwiched between two pairs of scaffolding, Donnelly helped install the power awning, affixed various stickers around the unit and helped assemble the headlamp backing and front grill details.
At one point during his shift, after he had a little difficulty securing the headlamp, a smiling Donnelly leaned over and told RVBUSINESS.com “every squirrel finds a nut every now and then.”
“He’s a cool guy and a good sport about it,” Hygema said. “He did pretty well.”
“Yeah, we might keep him on,” joked Dominick Fultz, another TMC employee who worked with Donnelly. “Actually, I’m kind of worried about him taking my job now.”
Afterward, Donnelly held a short press conference in front of a new Axis where he thanked TMC for hosting him and then discussed the turnaround of the RV industry, among other political topics.
Calling Elkhart the “heartbeat of the RV industry,” he said TMC and the other manufacturers and suppliers provide the private sector jobs “that drive our country, that make things go.”
“Business has been good, business has been strong,” he said. “When this industry clicks, our whole region clicks. We’re very, very blessed to be on the upswing significantly and we want to see that continue.”
While business is good now, it wasn’t long ago that the industry was limping along, something Donnelly acknowledged.
“We went through some tough times five years ago,” he said. “And everybody at that time said, ‘Joe, we’re going to get through this. We’re just going to continue to keep working hard, just going to continue to keep focusing on good design and good products and good people.’ And now the industry is almost at record levels.”
Asked what will keep the RV industry humming, Donnelly said Washington needs to “mostly get out of the way” and “let American ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit grow our country.”
Thor President & CEO Bob Martin said the company was “honored” and “excited” to host Donnelly, adding it coincides with a terrific year for the company. “It’s definitely been an experience with three new factories opening this year alone,” he said. “It’s been a busy year, but it’s been a good year.”
Thor Industries Inc. Executive Chairman and co-founder Peter B. Orthwein, who was inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame later that evening, was also on hand for the tour and expressed his thanks for Donnelly’s visit. He also mentioned he was equally glad for the better times in the industry.
“Motorhomes have really come back recently,” Orthwein said. “In 2006, what did we have, 70,000 units? Then in ‘09 we were down to 12,000. And we’re back up to 45,000-50,000 units now. It’s really nice to see the industry getting back on its feet.”