Sharing more than just a border and Midwestern roots, Michigan and Indiana’s state associations representing their respective recreational vehicle, manufactured housing and campground industries merged their annual meetings for the second successive year.
The joint convention, held Sept. 18-19 at the historic Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids, Mich., allowed members from the Indiana Manufactured Housing Association/Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (IMHA-RVIC) to congregate and network with representatives of the Michigan Manufactured Housing & RV Campground Association (MMH & RVCA).
This year’s event, hosted by the Michigan association, attracted 220 combined members and featured 38 supplier display booths along with a full roster of seminars and training sessions led by industry leaders and specialists. “There are an awful lot of reasons for the associations to have a joint convention,” said Dennis Harney, executive director for IMHA-RVIC. “But I think the biggest benefit is the networking that goes on. And by combining the two associations, we have essentially doubled those networking opportunities.”
Bill Sheffer, director of the Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds (MARVAC), a division of MMH & RVCA, noted: “Obviously there is a lot of symmetry between the two organizations, including having several members belonging to both associations. The other thing is, I believe we are two of the last – if not the last – remaining states operating with dual organizations. It just made sense to bring the members together, both from a cost standpoint and to provide a larger forum where people could interact.”
One concern felt on both sides of the state line is a lingering downturn in the automotive industry. Michigan’s economy, in particular, is driven by production levels in Detroit. “The state has been in a recession for several years with high unemployment rates, mainly caused by layoffs in the auto industry,” Sheffer said. “It has affected families’ disposable income, which is reflected in RV sales.”
In fact, said Sheffer, Michigan’s retail RV sales through June were down more than 21% from last year. However, that scenario was tempered by positive reports from the campground sector. “On the flip side, people still seem to be using their RVs,” Sheffer said. “Campground owners said they had reasonably good summers.”
Recently instituted state legislation delaying the start of school until after the Labor Day weekend, he added, also gave campgrounds a boost.
Harney, in turn, said members of his organization were reporting that the state’s RV sales reflected national trends in that “motorhomes are down and towables are up.”
He acknowledged that the auto industry, which has a large supplier presence in the Hoosier state, was also impacting jobs. “Indiana has always been oriented toward auto manufacturing, so we’ve seen some of those jobs go away,” he said. “But that’s been offset, somewhat, by new companies coming into the state.”
Harney said most RVIC members were reporting steady sales during the past year.
“Most feel pretty good about the industry’s prospects,” he said, “particularly in the long-term.”
Kelly Cummins, president of IMHA-RVIC and sales/product manager for Coachmen Industries Inc.’s Spirit of America division, noted there were signs of an upturn at the retail level in August. “With gas prices going down, I’ve been hearing that August was strong for the dealers,” said Cummins. “Wholesale is a little soft right now, but that’s mainly because the retailers are being conservative on inventory with the higher interest rates. But I think they’ve cut back about as much as they’re going to. Overall, people are positive.”
While several events during the convention catered to members from both states, the associations still held separate board meetings to tackle pressing issues, particularly on the legislative front, in their respective states. On the Indiana side of the fence, IMHA-RVIC was considering:
• Initiating legislation to convert RVs from being subject to personal property taxes to an excise tax to achieve more consistency in taxation.
• Readdressing the issue of eliminating sales tax on RV purchases by out-of-state buyers, a law that was in place five years ago. The law was repealed, then amended to state that buyers from “reciprocal” states would be exempt from sales tax. Harney said that a review of the situation indicates that about 10 states don’t qualify, a higher number than anticipated.
• In assessing the association’s three key retail shows, members gave positive reviews, including the Midwest RV Supershow which returned to Elkhart County this past summer.
Michigan’s members looked at:
• Adding shows at a new exposition center set to open on the east of the Detroit metropolitan area.
• Reviewing with a new task force the association’s member communications to see if more electronic means are in order.
• Investigating through another task force improving OEM/dealer relationships through dealer agreements.
• Supporting a proposal that will appear on the November ballot to change the state constitution with regard to recreation and conservation-related funds generated by fees. The proposal would prevent legislators from tapping resources for non-related projects.
New IMHA-RVIC officers for 2007 were elected at the board meeting, including: President Kelly Cummins; Vice President Hillary Tebo, Walls Manufactured Homes; Secretary-Treasurer Tim Fister, Blevins Inc.; RV Council Chairman Dan Workman, Yogi Bear’s Camp Resort, Barton Lake; RV Council Assistant Chairman Bob Sindy, Security Protection & Associates; MH Council Chairman Gregg Pardieck, The Village Green MHP; Assistant MH Chairman Pam Ziemer, Village Homes of Columbus.