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CrossRoads RV has decided to lighten up. The result, the Topeka, Ind.-based company announced Friday (Oct. 23), is 125 new jobs.

The manufacturer is reopening a closed plant as it ramps up production on redesigned SlingShot and Sunset Trail Ultra Light travel trailers, according to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

The company is making the trailers from lighter materials, allowing SUVs and trucks to pull longer units, up to 29 feet each, President Mark Lucas said. The environmentally friendly material, which replaces much of the wood used in the traditional design, doesn’t mold or mildew, he said.

CrossRoads, which has already noticed stronger demand for its products, expects consumers will embrace the revamped models, which are priced from $21,000 to $27,000.

The new production line should be up to full speed in January. The company plans to hire 30 workers immediately and add 25 to 30 more each month for the next few months, he said.

About 90 workers will be assigned to making SlingShots and Sunset trailers. The rest will be added to shifts in three other company plants on the campus. CrossRoads makes several RV models, including upscale fifth-wheels that sell for $75,000 each.

The new jobs will pay up to $50,000 after the line reaches full production and bonuses are added to base pay, Lucas said.

The production plant was closed about 16 months ago because consumer demand declined. About 65 workers were laid off at the time. Lucas said anyone who hasn’t found another job will be considered first for the new positions.

“I hope nobody’s waiting around, but maybe some of them have no choice,” he said.

LaGrange County’s unemployment rate in September was 14%, well above the 9.6% average for the state but a welcome improvement from March’s rate of 18.9%, the highest in Indiana that month.

Lucas hopes the worst of the recession is over and his company’s new product line will fill a niche market.

Founded in 1998, CrossRoads was acquired by Jackson Center, Ohio-based Thor Industries Inc. for about $27 million in 2004. Lucas is the only one of the five original owners still with the company.

CrossRoads and other RV makers owned by Thor operate independently and compete in the marketplace.

Lucas sees his revamped RV line as a competitive edge.

More people can sleep comfortably in longer trailers. A 19-foot trailer holds four. A 28-foot model can house up to seven. Both styles include kitchens with a sink, range and microwave; a bathroom with a sink, toilet and shower; and a dining table that converts into a queen-sized bed.

A propane tank and a 12-volt battery allow campers to park in a field if an electrical outlet isn’t available, Lucas said. Only the microwave and air conditioning won’t work.

Company officials tried to use the lighter, more expensive materials strategically because it increases the price of trailers.

Lucas believes CrossRoads has survived the recession better than competitors because it focuses on product quality and value.

The company’s sales have fallen about 20% this year, which is better than the industry average, he said. CrossRoads’ data show the company has also increased market share by 17% in the U.S. and 35% in Canada.

As the economy rebounds, it makes sense that consumers would approach vacation spending cautiously, said James Lowry, a retired Ball State University marketing professor who studied retail and consumer spending.

Consumers who recoil from splurging on airfare, hotels and restaurants might prefer to invest in an RV, which can be used multiple times, Lowry said.

“It’s still a way to get out and enjoy and see the country without the large expenditure,” he said.

Recreational vehicles are less seasonal than boats in many parts of the country, making them a better value, Lowry said.