JACKSON CENTER — Excitement was in the air Friday morning, Aug. 3, when members the community joined Airstream for its plant expansion groundbreaking ceremony in Jackson Center.
“Let me start by saying how happy we are to see all of these smiling faces out here today as we mark this, certainly a historic moment in the story of this company that is 87 years old and really just reinventing itself and starting a new chapter,” said Airstream President/CEO Bob Wheeler.
The 750,000-square-foot facility, to be powered by renewable energy, will feature a new factory to consolidate the manufacturing of the iconic “silver bullet” travel trailer under one roof, a training center, museum and corporate offices. The current travel trailer plant will be converted for building the company’s tour coaches.
As a result of the expanded capacity, Airstream expects to hire additional associates, bringing total employment in Jackson Center to around 1,200 people. The $40 million project expansion is located about a mile west of the current factory in Jackson Center.
The training center will provide “a hands-on shop floor environment for earning certifications, learning new skills, and mastering new production and maintenance techniques,” according to a release.
“Simply put, there is no place else in the nation where we could find the work force, the village, the county or the state to support our continued growth than in Jackson Center,” Wheeler said before going on to praise Airstream’s “hard-working and dedicated” employees and the company’s partnerships.
Airstream began in California, but opened operations in Jackson Center in 1952. The company then closed all other locations and began solely manufacturing at the Jackson Center plant in 1979, Mark Wahl, Airstream’s senior vice president of operations, said.
Representatives of the Sidney-Shelby County Chamber of Commerce, Sidney-Shelby Economic Partnership, the village of Jackson Center and JobsOhio were present for the groundbreaking ceremony and spoke highly of Airstream and the company’s importance in Shelby County.
Dawn Eilert, vice president of Sidney-Shelby County Chamber of Commerce, noted the expansion signifies growth and prosperity in Shelby County and thanked the company for being a part of the Chamber of Commerce.
Sidney-Shelby Economic Partnership’s former Executive Director Mike Dodds, who filled in for current Executive Director Jim Hill, said, “Airstream continues to be one of the main reasons that Shelby County ranks among the state of Ohio’s counties as the highest percentage of people working in manufacturing in the state. … And we are proud of that. You know they say manufacturing is dying. Well it’s not dying in Shelby County. In fact, Shelby County is one of the largest employers in the Dayton region, and Airstream is one of the main reasons we have that luxury of having the largest employers in the region.”
Jackson Center Mayor Scott Klopfenstein thanked Airstream for choosing to be in Jackson Center and promised to continue to work with and be there for the company “throughout the expansion and beyond.”
“This is a very special day in our village of Jackson Center; a very special day like it was back in 1952 when representatives from Airstream choose Jackson Center as a place to call home,” Klopfenstein said. “We are honored and feel truly blessed to be a partner for the past 66 years.”
Director of JobsOhio Jonathan Bridges also praised Airstream, noting that it is “by far one of the most important iconic brands” in Ohio. He said he is grateful JobsOhio is able to support the expansion project by matching employees to available jobs.
Wahl said they started considering the project about a year and a half ago as sales of their travel trailers “skyrocketed.” The increase in sales, Wahl noted, has come from baby-boomers, who are at the peak of retirement age, and from millennials, who have, surprisingly, adopted the lifestyle.
“We are coming out with a product that’s called a ‘smart’ trailer, so it’s got the WiFi and cellular capability onboard, and those products that enhance in the classic trailer-line,” Wahl said. “We’ve got the benefit of the boomer that we’ve always kind of catered to, and now the millennials are really starting to jump in. So those two of opposite ends have provided a boost to the industry in general.”
Wheeler told the Sidney Daily News, “It’s a moment of tremendous excitement, but because the company is so old, we try to place it in perspective of the whole history of the company, 87 years. So, we know that this isn’t a beginning. It’s really just a new chapter in the history of the company, but a chance for us to make sure the next 87 years are just as successful and contribute just as much locally as the first 87.
“We are really proud of the fact that we are able to do this in Jackson Center. I can’t tell you how much pride I take in that, and we didn’t have to look elsewhere and consider going west or south and be able to make our stand here. It means a lot to us and makes us proud to continue our history in western central Ohio,” Wheeler said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.