Analysts are projecting a 25-30% increase in recreational vehicle sales in 2010, and that is starting to translate into more jobs for Indiana, including Elkhart County, where an estimated two-thirds of the nation’s RVs are produced.

Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC, Jayco Inc. and Thor Industries Inc. are among companies planning to expand. That’s a lift to a still down-in-the-dumps industry that is recovering as credit loosens a bit and showroom dealers reorder to meet demand, according to the Indianapolis Star.

“We’re not seeing this as an indication of greener pastures, but demand will come up higher in the next year,” said David Hefty, CEO and founder of Cornerstone Wealth Management in Auburn, Ind., who tracks the industry.

Making motorhomes, travel trailers and towable RVs has been big business in northern Indiana for years, peaking at 390,500 RV units shipped in 2006. As the recession began, total shipments fell to 353,500 in 2007 and to 237,000 last year, with just 150,000 units produced this year — and unemployment swelled as factories of RV titans closed or halted production.

Shipments should rise to 190,000 by 2010, said Kevin Broom, spokesman for the Reston, Va.-based Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), as several companies take advantage of the bankruptcies of larger rivals like Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. and Monaco Coach Inc. In Indiana, that means:

  • Middlebury-based Jayco is increasing production rates as a result of more RV orders than expected. It said its order backlog is the largest in more than two years and that it has recalled or hired more than 200 production workers.
  • The Goshen area expects to add two factories before year’s end for Ohio-based Thor Industries. It owns Airstream Inc., Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., Four Winds International and seven other units that sell nearly 50 brands. Its officials didn’t return calls, but Chief Operating Officer Richard Riegel told The Wall Street Journal: “The nadir in this industry is definitely behind us.”
  • Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC of Elkhart, which makes towable RVs, is hiring about 200 production workers, with 200 more by March. Heartland says orders have increased since Oct. 1 and that it revamped its whole line to help improve market share. “(Ongoing research and development is) why we have been able to grow so quickly in just 51/2 years,” said Coley Brady, director of fifth-wheel sales.

Gains like this helped lower Elkhart County’s unemployment rate to 14.9% in October from 18.8% in March. Kyle Hannon, vice president of public policy for the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, said Elkhart is trying to become more diverse, but the RV is still king.

“As the RV companies turn around and start hiring — and because they hire in large numbers — that will be where the turnaround comes from.”

What’s also good is that other parts of the state are seeing some sparks of interest in RV products. About 75 miles south of Elkhart, in Miami County, a startup towable RV maker plans to add 100 jobs by 2011.

Riverside Travel Trailer Inc., a company formed in Peru in June inside the former home of RV maker Adventure Manufacturing, will invest more than $1.1 million to purchase new equipment and make upgrades to the 130,000-square-foot building, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. said in a news release. Riverside employs more than 30 former Adventure workers. It will double staff by the second quarter of 2010 and keep hiring manufacturing and assembly workers as market conditions allow.

“The RV business is entering into a recovery phase, and it is here to stay. Indiana is the heart of the RV industry, and as such, it is the place to be,” said Mark Gerber, vice president of sales and finance at Riverside Travel Trailer