The planned shutdown of the Starcraft RV Inc. plant in Topeka, Ind., by mid-January, announced Monday, was another major blow to this town of just 1,100 people.
But, according to a report in the Goshen News, the hundreds of people who work in the RV businesses in the region have felt a slowdown in production all this year.
Plants in the area have been operating at less-than-maximum capacity, with some factories stopping production an average of a week per month all this year. In recent weeks, work schedules have been three to five days per week, with some operating the first two weeks in November and possibly the first half of December before another shutdown for a time.
For a variety of reasons, orders are down as RV dealers are not stockpiling units, but ordering them after they are sold, workers explained.
Several RV workers who enjoyed coffee and lunch together at Crossroads Cafe Tuesday pointed out that this year they have been off work an average of one week each month.
“If I had to depend on the factory,” said Floyd Miller, who lives seven miles outside Topeka, “I’d be in bad shape.”
Miller works for one of the Topeka RV firms owned by Thor, but also raises calves and farms near the town.
His employer schedules work weeks ahead, giving employees notice of when they will be needed, so they may adjust their lives.
Larry Miller, who lives northeast of Topeka, has worked for about four RV companies since he turned to factory work in the early 1970s. He also farmed his property over the years, too.
Miller said he remembers in the winter of 1972-73 that Jayco sent workers home at Christmas time and said “stay home until you get a letter.” He said that shutdown was for about two months.
He now works for a wood products company that supplies the RV industry, and is working about three days a week.
Topeka Clerk-treasurer DeWayne Bontrager said back 25 years ago it was normal for RV firms to have winter shutdowns. But in the past 10 years the demand for the products has kept most plants operating all winter long and employees have become used to that steady work.
Mark Lucas, president of Crossroads RV, said more than 400 people are working four days a week at the four plants and one service center at Topeka.
“We have new products going to the Louisville show in two weeks,” Lucas said.