Anyone who has traveled North America's roadways would recognize the bullet shape and gleaming silver exterior of an Airstream. What they may not know, however, is that the iconic travel trailer is made exclusively in Jackson Center, Ohio.
Airstream started in California in the 1930s. After outgrowing its Los Angeles facility in the early 1950s, the company's founder wanted to expand in the Midwest. He purchased a factory in Jackson Center, about an hour north of Dayton, and the company has been making its hand-riveted, aluminum travel trailers in Ohio ever since. Airstream closed its California plant in the 1970s, making Jackson Center the company's only location.
Airstream has experienced tremendous growth in the past few years, requiring several expansions. Its parent company, Thor Industries, could have moved some of the production to one of its facilities in Indiana. Instead, Thor chose to invest in the Jackson Center plant, in part because of the smart, passionate and hard-working talent the company has found in Ohio.
"There's a dedication to craftsmanship and quality," said Bob Wheeler, Airstream's president and CEO. "People understand hard work, they understand loyalty, they understand what it is to be part of something bigger than themselves. You don't find that just anywhere, and we find it in droves in western and central Ohio. Airstream has thrived here in Ohio."
Between 2014 and 2016, Airstream spent nearly $11.5 million on four projects: adding new equipment, purchasing nearby property, expanding the size of its existing facilities for production and adding a new R&D center.
In February 2018, Airstream announced plans for yet another expansion: Its largest one ever. The company will break ground in late spring on a $40 million project that will almost triple production space from 430,000 square feet to 1.05 million square feet and create 300 new jobs. The expansion will allow the company to consolidate multiple production spaces into one facility, bringing the assembly of its travel trailers under one roof. It also will make more room to produce its touring coaches and growing line of other recreational vehicle products.
Airstream has benefited from a cooperative and responsive network of economic development partners at the local, regional and state level. This network has supported all four of Airstream's expansion projects to help ensure it could continue meeting the growing demand for its products. JobsOhio, for example, worked with CEO Bob Wheeler to make sure incentive programs aligned with the company's needs. Dayton Development Coalition has been offering assistance and connecting the company with partners and resources for several years. Jackson Center, Shelby County and ODOT's division of jobs and commerce collaborated to support the project at a local level.
Airstream has more than 900 associates working at its Jackson Center campus, and that number is expected to grow to 1,200 once the latest expansion is finished in 2019.
"This company is almost 90 years old, and its best years are ahead of it," Wheeler said. "We are growing steadily right now. We have access to the number one resource we need to build Airstreams, and that's people."