ELKHART — U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt visited East to West RV on the north side of Elkhart on Wednesday to tout the investments that will be going toward recreation and conservation as a result of the Great American Outdoors Act.

Bernhardt was joined on the tour of the RV complex by Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Jimtown, and Indiana Sen. Todd Young. The trio then watched as Pete Liegl, the founder of RV giant Forest River, and his daughter Lisa Liegl Rees, co-general manager of East to West, became the latest to sign President Trump’s Pledge to American Workers.

The pledge is a commitment by Forest River and its subsidiaries — including East to West — to invest in its workforce and expand job opportunities in Indiana and beyond. The company, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, is the nation’s second largest RV manufacturer and employs nearly 13,000 workers.

“Under our pledge to the American worker, we will provide individuals with opportunities to develop their skills,” said Liegl. “We’ll increase our apprenticeships, work-based learning programs and on-the-job training.”

To date, officials say more than 430 companies and organizations have signed the pledge, contributing to new education and training opportunities for American students and workers over the next five years.

Despite the mandated shutdown caused by the coronavirus earlier this year, RV manufacturers and dealers have reported a strong rebound in production and sales because of restrictions in other types of travel as well as heightened interest in outdoor activities.

In June, the RV Industry Association reported that June shipments jumped 10.8% to 40,462 units compared to the same month a year prior and pointed out that deliveries were the highest since October 2018.

And despite the coronavirus-induced recession, many RV companies in the Elkhart region are now looking for workers as Americans are heading to campgrounds around the country in record numbers.

Bernhardt said the Great American Outdoors Act, which was signed by President Trump earlier this month, will ensure that travelers will have places to visit, including places such as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge in southern Indiana.

The act allocates $900 million a year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and up to $9.5 billion over five years to clear up a maintenance backlog at national parks and other public lands.

“The Great American Outdoors Act will support tens of thousands of jobs in the state of Indiana,” Young said. “Aside from National Parks themselves, no other industry will benefit as much from the GAOA as the RV industry.”

That’s because many of the people making use of the parks come in a motorhome or a trailer, the overwhelming majority of which are built in the Michiana region and support tens of thousands of jobs.

Walorski said the investment in public space as well as Forest River’s commitment to workers bodes well for workers in the region, tens of thousands of whom work in RV and boat-building companies and suppliers.

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