JACKSON CENTER — With United States Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt alongside him Wednesday afternoon, Airstream President and CEO Bob Wheeler affirmed his company’s pledge to train American workers.
Wheeler signed the Pledge to America’s Workers, an initiative of President Donald Trump to get companies to commit to educate, train and reskill their employees. More than 450 American companies have signed the pledge since July 2018.
“In many ways it acknowledges the work that we’ve already been doing, and it’s great to get a little publicity around it,” Wheeler said. “And we’re a dedicated employer here in Shelby County not just in terms of hiring new associates but also giving them training and investment opportunities.”
Wheeler also celebrated the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, bipartisan legislation Trump signed into law in August with support of both of Ohio’s senators, Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman.
The act permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million per year and provides $9.5 billion over the next five years to address a maintenance backlog at American national parks.
That legislation was important to Airstream, whose business relies on people visiting national parks and other natural sites throughout the nation.
“All of it is building the destinations that people want to take their Airstreams to,” Wheeler said. “To see this kind of commitment to the future of our national parks and shared natural spaces is enormously important to the future of our business.”
While all manufacturing is vital to the economy, Bernhardt said Airstream’s products in particular are special for generations of Americans.
“These are more than a mode of transportation or housing,” the secretary of the interior said. “They create memories.”
Bernhardt is one of the people who feel a strong connection to Airstream dating back to when he was 4 or 5 years old. He recalled visiting his grandfather, a rancher who raised sheep and had a small Airstream trailer.
“That was his place,” Bernhardt said, “and to get to hang out with him in that little camper, I can still remember how awesome and special I felt.”
Bernhardt has served as the secretary of the interior since April 2019. His department is tasked with the management and conservation of most federal lands and natural resources in the U.S.
“(Airstream’s) mission really was to get people to experience new places in new ways, and that’s fundamentally what the Department of Interior is all about,” Bernhardt said. “We want folks out utilizing public land.”
Approximately 20 million Americans utilize a recreational vehicle each year, contributing $114 billion annually to the U.S. economy and $4 billion to Ohio’s economy.
Between now and July 2021, Wheeler said, Airstream intends to hire an additional 240 employees. The company’s headquarters in Jackson Center include 11,000 square feet of space dedicated to training new employees and dealership personnel while also offering leadership training to current employees. Airstream also works with schools and universities to help prepare students to be successful in the workforce.
“I was proud to sign the pledge because it really acknowledges the great work we’ve already been doing and looks ahead to the additional hiring and training that we’re anticipating as our business grows,” Wheeler said.
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