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Elkhart County, Ind., which includes the cities of Elkhart and Goshen, is facing a labor shortage again, largely because of the surge in RV production this year, according to the Elkhart (Ind.) Truth newspaper.
“If manufactured housing (another significant Elkhart County employer) ever gets back to the levels of three, four, five years ago, we’re going to have a serious employee shortage,” said Stuart Holaday, president of park model manufacturer Dutch Park Homes in Goshen.
Dutch Park plans to double production in the spring and Holaday told the newspaper he’s worried about being able to find enough qualified people to produce the additional units.
Goshen’s unemployment rate is 4.2% of the labor force and for all of Elkhart County, the unemployment rate is 4.5%. Both figures are below the national average.
And the labor market is expected to become tighter with the opening of five new towable RV production plants in Goshen between now and spring. Thor Industries Inc. subsidiary Keystone RV Co. is in the process of opening two new plants in Goshen now and it recently broke ground for building two more in Goshen. The newest plants are scheduled for completion in the spring.
Meanwhile, Dutchmen Manufacturing Co. another Thor subsidiary, also intends to open a new factory in the spring.
Dutchmen, currently, is looking for 150 new employees and Jeff Newport, Dutchmen’s vice president of operations, believes the time has come for RV manufacturers in the Elkhart County area to look outside of the RV industry for new workers.
“We can no longer rely on people with (RV industry) experience,” Newport said during his interview with the Truth. “There are a lot of people who are capable of working hard. … We’ll teach them how to build things.”
Meanwhile, employment agency Manpower plans to hold five “recruiting road shows” in the Elkhart County area this week to find “hidden gems” among the population, according to Scott Schultz, manager of the Elkhart and Goshen offices of Manpower.
As in the past, there are calls anew for Elkhart County chambers of commerce to begin recruiting workers from high-unemployment areas around the country. However, Wes Graff, president of the Goshen Chamber of Commerce, believes such an effort would be unnecessary.
Goshen’s population grew by 6,500 between 1990 and 2000 and Graff said, “It’s because of jobs. This wasn’t with us going out and getting the word out. They (job seekers) found us, and, frankly, they’re going to find us again.”
Manufacturing jobs in Elkhart County generally pay from $10 to $15 an hour, but those in skilled positions can earn as much as $60,000 to $90,000 a year.
“If they (job seekers from outside the immediate area) can get good-paying jobs and buy houses and become productive members of the community, that would be good for us,” Graff said. “We want people who want to be here and call this area home.”
The Elkhart County economy, and labor market, is highly cyclical because of its reliance on consumer durable goods manufacturing. About half of the jobs in Elkhart County are in manufacturing, which is unusually high when considering that nationally, less than one-fifth of all jobs are in manufacturing.
There are some major metropolitan areas such as Las Vegas and Miami where less than 5% of all jobs are in manufacturing, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.