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The RV industry is in danger of being tainted by the image of FEMA-filled “trailer ghettos” and resultant service problems that are likely to develop in RVs used as temporary housing in Louisiana and Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
That was the warning issued by David J. Humphreys, outgoing president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) during the first-ever joint convention of the Indiana Manufactured Housing Association-Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (IMHA-RVIC), Indianapolis, and the Michigan Manufactured Housing, Recreational Vehicle and Campground Association (MARVAC), Okemos, Mich.
Humphreys and other panelists appearing at the meeting, held Sept. 19-20 at the Century Center in South Bend, Ind., had very few positive things to say about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) relief efforts.
“The Gulf thing from where I sit is maybe a blessing in disguise (for the RV industry), although it’s a little bit scary,” Humphreys said. “FEMA doesn’t appear to have a plan.”
At the same time, Linda Profaizer, president of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), said the association is telling campground operators to be “very cautious” before contracting to receive some of the tens of thousands of trailers that FEMA has ordered.
“FEMA is not easy to work with,” she said. “You have to take whoever they give you, and they could be there for 18 months – or it could be longer.”
Participating in an unusual panel discussion that covered a broad array of industry-related subjects were national representatives from the RV and recreational park trailer manufacturing, dealership and campground segments.
Panel participants included Humphreys, Profaizer, Richard A. Coon, RVIA president-designate; William Garpow, executive director of the Recreation Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA); and Jeff Kurowski, field representative for the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA).
IMHA-RVIC Executive Director Dennis Harney said the joint convention was an effort to increase annual meeting participation among members of the two organizations.
“Attendance at annual meetings has been declining throughout the country,” Harney said. “Bringing the two organizations together like this gives us more resources, and our sponsors only have to contribute on one meeting.”
About 200 people attended the two-day event at the Marriott Century Center in downtown South Bend that included a trade show with 37 vendors. “We got more people coming to the convention, and they were more interested,” Harney said. “That will help build interest for next year when we will hold it in Michigan.
“The forum went well. Any time you have a chance to learn something about the industry, it’s well worthwhile.”
Humphreys, who will retire from RVIA in January, cautioned that Hurricane Katrina may eventually sully the industry, even as government and private orders have purged dealers’ and manufacturers’ back lots of an overabundance of aging towable inventory.
Humphreys was particularly critical of FEMA for being unprepared for a natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina’s scope as well as its high-handed attitude in dealing with vendors.
“There are all sorts of rumors about what they are ordering, buying,” Humphreys said. “A lot of this stuff FEMA is demanding that manufacturers sell them direct. That’s not in anyone’s best interests. They don’t know how to buy them, they don’t know how to maintain them and they don’t know how to sell them. They’ve caused us lots of problems over the years.”
Following the four hurricanes that struck Florida last fall, Humphreys said RVIA earlier this year attempted to contact FEMA and develop a contingency plan and procedures to provide RVs during future natural disasters. After a month of being passed from one bureaucrat to another, however, he gave up.
With regard to FEMA’s plans on where RVs will be sited as temporary housing, “We don’t know what is going to happen down there,” Humphreys said. “It’s very scary. I think we are all very eager to have input on what is really going on.”
Humphreys said it is important that FEMA relocate evacuees in the proper environment, recalling a time when RVs were associated with mobile home parks and “trailer trash.”
“Thank goodness that is all behind us,” he said. “But if this mess brings that back, that’s trouble and could hurt our image.”
Humphreys said the longer that RVs are in temporary use as housing, the more likely that service problems will develop.
“If we had a commitment that they needed so many (service technicians) for so long at a certain location, the industry could do something like that,” he said. “But they can’t even answer the simplest question about who would be relocated and who would do the training.”