Fleetwood RV Inc. on Wednesday announced a $7.4 million investment in its Decatur motorhome-production facilities. It will also be adding 300 jobs.
An unexpectedly strong market and a smoother-than-expected transition out of bankruptcy have Fleetwood RV Inc. saying it likely will add 300 workers to its Decatur operations within the next three months, according to the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette.
The company also plans to invest $7.4 million in its facilities, company and state officials announced.
”We think that 2010 is going to be a better year,” Fleetwood President and COO John Draheim told RVBUSINESS.COM. ”We are not looking for major growth, but we think there will be stability. The credit market will start to come back to us.”
Draheim based his prediction on the fact that inventory reductions are starting to turn around.
”We saw at the beginning of the year an inordinate amount of inventory, both new and used,” he said. ”We had dealer failures occurring across the country and a high amount of repossessed inventory occurring so the market was flooded.
”What we are seeing in the last 60 days, the number of units running through auction has decreased (and) new inventory is significantly lower than it was six months ago. We are probably not quite done with (inventory reductions) yet, but we are real close. We can see it from here.”
Fleetwood RV was formed in July when American Industrial Partners Capital Fund IV (AIP) bought the motorhome assets and the Fleetwood brand from bankrupt Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.
The new owners expect staffing to reach about 600 workers by the end of the year, said Paul Bamatter, an AIP executive, in the the first public comments by an AIP executive since the courtship with Fleetwood Enterprises began in the spring.
”Fleetwood is the best brand in the market,” Bamatter told RVBUSINESS.COM. ”We invest in companies where we have the best management (and) work force. The RV industry is going to recover and Fleetwood is going to lead the recovery.”
Fleetwood RV will make weekly additions to a work force that on Monday numbered 630, CEO Chuck Wilkinson said.Wilkinson stipulated that while Fleetwood is increasing production, hiccups in the supply chain could slow plans to add jobs. As it hires workers, Fleetwood plans to restart a production line making luxury motorhomes in mid-September.
”There are signs of (industry recovery),” Wilkinson told RVBUSINESS.COM. ”A challenge for all industries right now is accessing credit.”
He pointed out that the RV industry downturn has been more severe than even the automobile industry, which has been the focus of federal government recovery efforts.
”Theirs wasn’t as bad,” he said, noting that several years ago Class A manufacturers sold 60,000 units while this year, that number will be closer to 10,000. ”(The RV industry) took a much deeper dive.”
Bamatter, Draheim, Wilkinson, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and other officials attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday at Fleetwood RV’s Class A motorhome plant on U.S. 224 east of Decatur, according to the Journal-Gazette.
“It really feels good to be working again, doesn’t it?” Wilkinson asked a crowd of a few hundred workers who had assembled for the ceremony in the plant’s paint room.
Daniels said AIP’s decision to buy the Fleetwood Enterprises’ motorhome assets – and to move Fleetwood RV’s headquarters to Decatur from Riverside, Calif. – had much to do with the city and its residents.
Another reason AIP chose the Decatur facilities was an incentive package worth up to $9.1 million from the Indiana Economic Development Corp., Bamatter said.
Wilkinson said that for competitive reasons he wouldn’t go into detail about the improvements being made to the Fleetwood RV facilities.
But, as an example, he cited paint ovens that were part of equipment worth $8 million AIP bought from a Fleetwood Enterprises plant in California. The company is considering installing the ovens in the Fleetwood RV Class C motorhome plant on Winchester Road so units made there don’t have to be taken across town to be painted, Wilkinson said.
Fleetwood employed more than 1,300 in Decatur before the economy started to spiral downward in December 2007. The 600 who remained on the payroll in 2009 worked sporadically until AIP bought the motorhome assets, the Journal-Gazette reported.
Then in July, they all had to reapply for their jobs. They all took a 10% pay cut and lost accrued vacation, according to Draheim.
Workers were disappointed to lose the pay and vacation but are starting to feel more secure about their jobs, said a Fleetwood worker who declined to give his name because the company didn’t give him permission to speak to the media.
Adams County unemployment was 14.8% in June, but the good news at Fleetwood RV might lead the way for the rest of the area, Decatur Mayor John Schultz said.
“This is a giant leap for us on the way back to recovery,” Schultz said.
Shown below at the Fleetwood ceremony are (from left) Jorge Amador, AIP executive; Chuck Wilkinson, Fleetwood RV CEO; Paul Bamatter, AIP executive; John Becker, AIP executive; Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels; Dino Cusumano, AIP executive; John Schultz, Decatur mayor; and John Draheim, president and COO of Fleetwood RV.