Indiana’s Elkhart County has long been dependent on the health of the recreational vehicle industry, but the cyclical nature of the business has also spawned local leaders to promote diversification over the years.
The following is an editorial which ran July 17 in the Elkhart Truth, examining the current downsizing in the industry and its effects on Elkhart’s primary economic base of RV manufacturers and suppliers.

For the last couple of years, the recreational vehicle industry had been an unending source of good news for the Elkhart County economy – record shipments, more jobs, increasing tax revenue.
So what are we to make of the recent batch of reports? Plant closings, falling shipment figures and missed earnings targets are hardly a recipe for a healthy industry.
While the bubble isn’t bursting in the same way the Internet bubble did five years ago, the news does serve as a cautionary tale for Elkhart County business leaders – the goal of diversifying the local economy is still well worth pursuing.
RV industry officials have long leaned on demographic trends to bolster their argument that the industry’s expansion has a long shelf life. Indeed, Baby Boomers aren’t going anywhere in the next couple decades, except perhaps on cross-country vacations. Younger families over the last couple of years also joined in the buying spree, in spite of rising gas prices.
The favorable trends had RV manufacturers falling all over themselves building more factories. Now it seems there’s some excess manufacturing capacity in the system. Some local manufacturers have been cutting back on staff and mothballing some operations.
Analysts and industry executives have been asking themselves how high gas prices had to go before sales were affected. It appears they have their answer. Unfortunately for the RV industry and all motorists, gas prices are unlikely to fall below $2 a gallon anytime soon.
Recently, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association reported that RV shipments had fallen two months in a row. While the numbers are still quite high historically, the evidence from dealer lots is that RVs just aren’t selling as quickly.
Meanwhile, Elkhart-based Coachmen Industries backed off bullish projections it issued earlier this year and said it expected to report two straight unprofitable quarters. On top of that, the company said it couldn’t reliably project how it would perform the remainder of the year.
Bill Bradley, the executive director of the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County, said he believes the recent bad news is only a blip and not a sign of industry weakness. He said, “We’re having some challenges with specific companies, but overall the industry looks healthy.”
There’s ample reason to believe that the RV industry will be the breadwinner for Elkhart County for years to come. Looking long-term, though, as business leaders are wise to do, means encouraging and nurturing other industries that can step up when the real down cycle in the RV industry will inevitably hit.
Initiatives such as making high-speed Internet more widely available in the area would go a long way in making Elkhart County attractive to a variety of industries. Improving secondary and adult continuing education opportunities is another key area to address.
Despite the recent RV cutbacks, there’s still plenty of work in Elkhart County, but there’s also plenty of work to do for the future.