The business community in Dubois County is dominated by a niche industry: furniture. Some of the county’s largest employers are furniture manufacturers, like Best Home Furnishings, Masterbrand Cabinets, Kimball International, and my business, OFS. Though our businesses have locations across the country, we all take advantage of Indiana’s manufacturing tradition. By basing large plants in smaller towns like Huntingburg, Jasper and Ferdinand, we promote economic development and job growth in these communities.
For example, OFS was founded and has continued to call Huntingburg, a town of just over 6,000 people, home for over 80 years. We are one of the region’s largest employers, with a workforce of over 1,800 people. Although it is often overlooked, the reason these and other manufacturing companies like mine are able to stay in this area is because of the resource of general aviation and our network of local public airports.
Having worked in this business for decades, I have grown to appreciate the value of face-face interactions. Even as it is becoming easier to conduct meetings, send proposals, and connect with customers through online platforms, a significant majority of our work is still done in person.
That is why general aviation is such a critical resource for OFS’ business growth. Operating out of the Huntingburg Regional Airport, corporate aircraft are used by our dealers attending sales meetings, reviewing blueprints with our engineers and company principles visiting our locations around the country. We recently worked with the Indiana University’s Athletic Department, which is about 75 miles from Huntingburg, to custom build product for their new student athlete facility. This deal required constant back-and-forth trips to Bloomington to showcase our process, products, and blueprints. We also needed to meet with them in person throughout the contract to fully understand their needs. Without general aviation, we would not have been able to transport our engineers and designers to the site efficiently, costing both our company and the client time and money. Having the airport nearby allows us to communicate efficiently, take on multiple projects at once, and meet customer needs to the best of our ability.
The Huntingburg Regional Airport has also been crucial for our business when we host potential customers from all over the country…and world. We attract business managers from Fortune 500 companies in the insurance, banking, education, hospitality, and healthcare industries. Our corporate hangar showcases a line of our products that greet these business owners when they first step off their aircraft. We are then able to shuttle them over to our headquarters in town, where they see firsthand how our furniture is produced and meet with employees at every level of the company.
I hear from these customers day in and day out about how instrumental the airport is in deciding to do business with us. Without the airport, our business would have a fraction of the activity we currently have, and the community of Huntingburg would not host business leaders from across the country. This exposure also opens up Huntingburg to the rest of the country, as many of the visitors coming into Huntingburg Regional Airport spend their time and money at local restaurants, hotels, and attractions.
As a family owned business for four generations, our business has experienced so many changes since our founding in 1937, but our reliance on general aviation to reach those goals has stayed the same.
There may be a lot of discussion right now by those on K Street about ‘infrastructure,’ but for those of us here on Main Street, that means the general aviation airports and aircraft that most people may not fly on, but depend on for their livelihood. Let’s keep that in mind as these discussions move forward and make sure we recognize the value that local airports bring to our everyday life.
Hank Menke is the President & CEO of OFS.