Indiana RV manufacturers and dealers landed nearly a quarter of the $2.3 billion in contracts issued so far to rebuild the Gulf Coast region following Hurricane Katrina, according to the Indianapolis Star.
The largest percentage of the $586 million directed at the Indiana RV industry went to Gulf Stream Coach Inc., Nappanee, Ind., which received a $521.6 million contract to build temporary housing for victims of Hurricane Katrina. At least one manufactured home builder – Fall Creek Homes LLC, Elkhart for $4.27 million – and seven Indiana RV dealers received contracts to provide travel trailers from their lots, according to the newspaper.
The dealers were: Tom Stinnett Holiday RV, Clarksville, $37 million; Tom Raper RV Inc., Richard, $14.6 million; Marks RV Sale, Greenfield, $4.95 million; Great Lake RV Center, Elkhart, $1.69 million; Tiara RV sales, Elkhart, $1.52 million; and Walnut Ridge Family Trailer Sales, New Castle, $1.06 million. “It’s good news for the state of Indiana, and it’s benefiting the economy overall,” said Wes Sedgwick, spokesman for the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
Dennis Harney, executive director of the Indiana Manufactured Housing Association-Recreational Vehicle Indiana Council, said Indiana’s location worked to the advantage of the state’s dealers.
Previously, companies in the Carolinas and Georgia were favored because they were closer to hurricane damage that periodically occurs in Florida, he said. But when Katrina hit Louisiana, Indiana became a viable alternative. Indiana’s RV industry has assisted FEMA in other disaster zones, but never to this degree. “The demand is not like anything we have seen before,” Harney said.
And the demand is posing challenges.
Some manufacturers have experienced a shortage of raw materials and drivers needed to deliver those materials to Indiana plants. Many certified RV haulers are opting to do the long haul to the coast rather than a run next door. The workload and accompanying shortages have forced some smaller companies such as Indiana Building Systems, a subcontractor, to become increasingly resourceful.
CEO John Guequierre said his 106 employees are working 12-hour days and partial Saturdays to build 500 manufactured homes for FEMA. Production doubled for the company in the first week, and sometimes the shortage of raw materials and deadline pressures have sent employees scurrying away to nearby Home Depot stores to pick up siding and other supplies. Working for FEMA also means meeting new regulations, specifications and guidelines.
“We have never hit this volume before,” Guequierre said. “And there are ongoing hour-to-hour and day-to-day challenges.”
The firm hired 34 employees to help finish its orders by Christmas. Depending on future contracts, those jobs may become permanent posts, Guequierre said.
At Tom Stinnett Holiday RV, RVs are being shipped every day to holding stations in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. “There’s a huge need down there, and we want to try and help,” said owner Tom Stinnett, who recently spent some time in the affected areas. Relatives of Stinnett’s wife had their homes in Louisiana destroyed by the hurricane, and he and his wife shipped four RVs to family members.
Others also are doing more than fulfilling their contractual requirements. At Tom Raper RV, employees donated food, clothes and money to be shipped with the $14.6 million worth of trailers that FEMA ordered. Friends and family members of employees have volunteered to drive the RVs to the holding areas. “We all are working as a team,” said Sheril Ward, Raper’s senior director of public relations.
The companies also are expecting future contracts for Katrina rebuilding. “When the new contracts are out, it’s only inevitable that Indiana companies will get some of them,” Harney said. “After all, this is where many of the companies and manufacturing plants are located.”