It may mean little to the thousands of people unemployed in Indiana’s Elkhart County. But tens of thousands of people still have a job — and many are related to the RV industry.
According to a report by WSBT-TV, South Bend, it’s nearly impossible to put an exact number on it. But according to the Chamber of Commerce, factoring in the area’s 15% unemployment rate, there are close to 55,000 people still working in manufacturing, and most of those manufacturing jobs are related to the RV industry.
The question is: How long can they hold on?
Drive through Elkhart County and you’ll see the “RV Capital of the World” is clearly on life support; but it isn’t dead.
EverGreen Recreational Vehicles LLC isn’t closing down; it’s getting started. It opened in December with an eco-friendly, lightweight travel trailer and now has 22 employees. Four dealerships have signed on with orders in the last week.
“We got orders in here, we actually put together our first production schedule here, and we’re scheduled out through the rest of the month and into April,” said Doug Lantz, president of EverGreen.
WSBT-TV reported that it’s a glimmer of good news for an industry that’s trying to weather its most severe downturn in recent memory.
And while there have been a series of cutbacks and layoffs by local manufacturers, they have also retained workers, including: nearly 2,000 at Keystone RV Co. in Goshen; 1,100 at Jayco Inc. in Middlebury, and just under 600 at Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc. in Goshen. Newmar Corp. and Gulf Stream Coach Inc. in Nappanee also have work orders, but wouldn’t say how many workers they’ve kept.
To stay alive, industry experts say RV companies have to change. The kind of vehicles they’ve been making for years can’t be the RVs they make in the future.
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) says a growing number of manufacturers are already starting to move toward lightweight, more fuel-efficient units.
Despite going green, EverGreen isn’t without hurdles of its own. Eco-friendly also means more expensive. But the head of the company said it’s a start.
“We just refuse to participate in a recession,” Lantz added.
EverGreen hopes to hire more people in April as production picks up.
One other major problem with the industry, however, is a lack of available credit. Company executives say people who want to buy right now can’t qualify, and dealerships that want to offer RVs can’t get the credit to buy the vehicles to put on their lot.
That’s something Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Granger, and Sen. Evan Bayh have worked to do something about.
In addition to trying to loosen the credit markets, they’ve included in the federal stimulus bill some tax relief for anyone who wants to buy a new motorhome that can deducted the sales tax you pay on your return next year.