The maker of the iconic “silver bullet” travel trailer will move into its new $50 million manufacturing facility at the end of the year.
Airstream’s new 750,000-square-foot building in Jackson Center will be able to make up to 165 travel trailers as demand increases. The current facility can turn out 85 per week, said Bob Wheeler, the company’s CEO.
Right now, Airstream has about 600 employees working on manufacturing the travel trailers at the Shelby County plant about 56 miles north of Dayton. The new facility will have the capacity to at least double employee count if the market calls for it.
“When we expanded the current travel trailer plant four years ago, we thought we knew to make it and we’d be fine. Well it took about a year and we’d already outgrown that expansion,” Wheeler said. “When we contemplated for this new travel trailer plant, we said we really need to build with the next 80 years in mind. Let’s build enough capacity that we’re not right up against it right away.”
The new facility will also increase quality, reduce damage and prevent injuries that currently happen because of the cramped conditions in the 255,000 square-foot facility, he said.
“Better work environment, better product and more of it. That’s just really the trifecta,” Wheeler said.
Airstream will move into the new plant when it shuts down for its one-week Christmas break and will begin manufacturing the silver trailers at the start of the new year, Wheeler said. It will have storage space so workers don’t have to truck materials from a warehouse across town, a media center that overlooks the whole facility to raise brand awareness, double the current two finishing lanes, a museum to show Airstream’s more than 80-year heritage, a full cafeteria and an overhead system where workers can build the roof without walking on it.
The company employs 960 workers, including the 600 workers manufacturing travel trailers and another 150 workers making motor homes. Close to 150 employees are in engineering, purchasing, sales and other overhead jobs that support production.
The plant that manufactured motor homes across the street from the main production site will become the service hub in Jackson Center, another space that has needed more room and wider repair lanes, Wheeler said.
When looking to increase production, Airstream considered expanding to more than first shift, said COO Justin Humphreys, but ultimately the company decided to invest in Shelby County’s new plant to keep one shift.
“That’s really what employees want is a first shift operation, for family life, quality life,” Humphreys said. “They really love that they’re going to stay on one shift.”
It also could have moved production to west of the Rocky Mountains where 60 percent of Airstreams end up or to the site of Airstream’s parent company Thor Industries in Elkhart, Indiana.
But the company wanted to stay in Jackson Center because Airstream’s are mostly built by hands that “belong to craftspeople, many of who have worked here for decades,” Wheeler said.
“This is tremendous for the village of Jackson Center — a small village of 1,400 people. Having a facility, having a company like Airstream that calls Jackson Center home is a true blessing,” said the village’s mayor Scott Klopfenstein. “We know that what they bring to our community, employees, tax base, makes our community much, much easier to financially run and make a nice place for people to live.”
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