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Politics & Government

A Nation Engaged: America's Place in the World, Through the Eyes of Harley-Davidson Owners

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Marti Mikkelson
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What is America’s place in the world? It’s the question NPR and its member stations are asking Americans this week, as voters get close to picking the next U.S. president. Today, we speak with people who patronize a huge local company: Harley-Davidson.

Some motorcycle owners seem comfortable with where the company stands globally, but say it will take effort to remain in a strong position.

Jim Wiske is strolling past a row of vendors at the House of Harley on Milwaukee’s south side. The dealer is hosting a street party as part of this weekend’s Milwaukee Rally. Wiske says Harley-Davidson has stood the test of time.

“Harley’s place in the world is ubiquitous. It’s a great story. They’re all over and everybody’s pecking at their heels to try to steal some of their business but they keep hanging in there and they’re doing a great job,” Wiske says.

Wiske has owned Harleys for more than 50 years. He says he remembers when the company went public in 1986 and it’s paid off for him.

“We’ve made some money on their stock, we thought it was a good gamble a few years back and we’re very happy we did what we did. We’re living the good life,” Wiske says.

Living the good life can include owning a variety of Harley products. Ashley Robinson says the company has made savvy business decisions in expanding its offerings beyond motorcycles.

“I think they can definitely go global. Everyone loves Harley Davidson, from the parts to the clothes to the accessories,” Robinson says. “We were in France last year and went to a Harley-Davidson dealership.” Rick Seder says he travels extensively for work and has seen lots of Harley owners overseas.

“I was in Prague a couple years ago and went to a Harley-Davison dealership so, they’re very well known. If you own a Harley, you own one of the better bikes in the world,” Seder says.

Seder says he applauds Harley’s efforts to start Harley Owners Groups in Europe - another way to raise the company’s profile and expand its brand. Glenn Jensen says the lifestyle it has promoted has helped keep the company in business.

“People who want a Harley are going to buy a Harley. I had to suffer buying Yamahas and Hondas and stuff until I could afford my first Harley,” Jensen says.

Yet Jensen says he is nervous about Harley’s future. “The market is so flooded now with motorcycles, it’s anybody’s guess what might happen,” Jensen says.

Fellow bike owner Ellen Wiske, hopes the next president will help Harley better position itself.

“They should do everything in their power to keep them here and give them the breaks that they need to develop and grow their company,” Wiske says.

Wiske notes that trade agreements have become an issue in the presidential election. She thinks good trade deals help Harley achieve global status, as long as the company’s headquarters stay in Milwaukee.

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