An Indiana RV-maker, teaming up with a California-based company, plans to make Elkhart County a hub for electric vehicle production, with the potential for more than 1,600 jobs by 2012.

Gov. Mitch Daniels and executives from Electric Motors Corp. and Nappanee, Ind.-based Gulf Stream Coach made the announcement about a partnership today (May 14) to manufacturer what it says is the first light-duty electric pickup truck, according to the Lafayette Journal and Courier.

Together, the companies plan to invest more than $80 million on building renovations, machinery and equipment to site manufacturing facilities in Wakarusa and Nappanee.

It’s welcome news in Indiana’s Elkhart-Goshen region – hard hit by unemployment due to fallout in the recreational vehicle industry, with a March rate of 18.8%, a 13 percentage-point increase over the past year. That was the fourth-highest jobless rate in the country.

“You can’t keep a great work force and a great business environment down for long,” Daniels said in a statement provided by the Indiana Economic Development Corp. “Every trip starts with a single step, but this is a huge step on the way back to the prosperity we’ve always associated with Elkhart County.”

The partner companies are seeking funding through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, which could expedite the job creation in Elkhart County, a news release says.

The Department of Energy’s program provides loans to automobile and parts manufacturers for the cost of re-equipping, expanding or establishing U.S. manufacturing facilities to produce advanced technology vehicles or qualified components.

EMC plans to purchase an existing building in Wakarusa and hire 450 workers to produce and assemble electric motors.

Gulf Stream Coach could increase its work force by up to 1,200 jobs, which would include recall of some displaced workers. The company will utilize one of its existing dormant plants in Nappanee for assembly operations.