Cutbacks in the RV industry are forcing some workers to move away from Indiana’s Elkhart County as a matter of survival, according to a report by WSBT, South Bend.
When a local RV supplier slashed Lew Austin’s salary by 20%, it forced him to send out resumes and uproot his family for his new job as a fire inspector in Las Vegas.
“This is 1,600 miles,” he explained. “But we need employment, need health benefits, need a retirement.”
As a result of the migration, area schools are seeing a drop in enrollment.
For example, enrollment in the Middlebury school district has dropped by six students since September.
“I’ve heard of one family going to Iowa and one family going to Kansas,” said superintendent Jim Conner.
In the past, Middlebury schools’ general fund was covered by local property taxes. But starting next school year, student enrollment will determine the amount of money that goes into the general fund. Fewer students means less money to pay for teachers and other student services.
“That is a concern as we see plants shutting down,” said Conner.
Aside from students moving out of the district, some Elkhart County school districts are also worried about people who don’t have jobs and choose to stay here.
The superintendent Connor told WSBT he’s afraid people who are out of work won’t be able to pay their property taxes. Schools rely on that money for capital projects, building maintenance, transportation funds and many other areas.
Small local towns once booming with RV business now look more like ghost towns, but the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce says businesses are actively pursuing Elkhart County.
“We’ve got the available workers, we’ve got the available buildings, we have nice tax rates,” said Greater Elkhart Chamber spokesman Kyle Hannon. “We’re a day’s drive from a third of the U.S. population. What business would not want to come here?”
Hannon also said everyone in the county is doing everything they can to try and bring jobs here.
“I think the future will be bright,” he said.
Another thing that isn’t clear right now — when these layoffs will end. Across the country, November’s layoffs were the most since December 1974, when the country was in a deep recession.