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Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann

Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann

Offering testament to its standing as a viable, growing piece of the RV industry’s trade-centric event circuit, Thursday’s (May 14) RV Industry Power Breakfast delivered a fast-paced, information-heavy format to nearly 750 attendees that packed the RV/MH Hall of Fame’s Northern Indiana Event Center.

Marking its third year, the Power Breakfast strategically caters to the industry’s manufacturing fulcrum in Elkhart County. That targeted audience accounts for the event’s impressive bump in attendance along with a slate of speakers comprising high-level executives from the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and the area’s OEM base, and representatives from national, state and local government that included: Keynote Speaker Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski and Goshen Mayor Alan Kauffman.

“The fact that the RV Industry Power Breakfast continues to gain momentum — with attendance growing from 400 attendees in 2013 to 748 this year — is not so much due to the political connections or foresight of the event’s organizers, in my opinion, as much as it is part of what I’d describe as a historical progression, an apparent result of the fact that so much of North America’s recreational vehicle product now emanates from the greater Elkhart County area,” said Sherman Goldenberg, publisher of RVBusiness Magazine which facilitates the Power Breakfast.

“The committee that organizes the event itself, including Gregg Fore of Dicor Corp., Doug Gaeddert of Forest River Inc., BJ Thompson of BJ Thompson Associates as well as Bev Gardner and myself from RVBusiness, are just the facilitators,” he added. “The hosts so to speak, and the Elkhart-centric industry players, are the show.”

While addressing a broad range of issue and topics, a universal theme centered around the industry’s resilience – never so apparent as during the remarkable turnaround the industry has engineered since the depths of the recession.

Jackie Walorski

Jackie Walorski

“This industry embodies the entrepreneurial spirit,” said Walorski in a taped message from Washington, D.C., who championed the establishment of an RV Caucus in the House. “The industry suffered greatly from the recession, but because of everybody in this room, it was able to emerge even stronger through hard work, drive and passion.”

She said that message is at the heart of the RV Caucus. “We need to educate members of Congress on the RV industry and let them know what is important, and what will help companies continue manufacturing RVs.”

During her keynote, Ellspermann — who revealed that she grew up with parents who were avid RVers — also confirmed the industry’s importance in the region’s economic outlook.

“I have seen some fantastic statistics, including the fact that there are 15 major manufacturers here, two of which are looking for major expansion,” she said. “The RV industry is truly the driver in Elkhart County. Unemployment rates are outpacing the nation, and the credit goes to the RV industry, and its ability to offer outstanding products that meet the needs of its customers.

Donnelly, appearing through a Skype transmission, related, “All the indicators seem to be in place for several more years of success. Fuel costs are under control, wages are good and decent interest rates should hold.

Donnelly, who was instrumental in establishing an RV Caucus in the Senate, added, “It’s the perfect climate for what the RV industry does – make peoples’ dreams come true.”

And, as evidenced by shipment totals projected to approach 380,000 in 2016, that success may be in for a good long run.

“When I travel through Goshen, I look at the seas of RVs ready to be delivered,” Kaufmann said. “But I don’t thing we’ve seen the end. I believe the industry will stay this way for a long, long time.”

Derald Bontrager, president of Jayco Inc. who was recently named RVIA chairman, stated, “All the signs indicate that the rest of this decade – and on into the next decade – will be characterized by growth years. We’ve been talking about the Baby Boomers for years, but we’re really seeing their impact. We want to make sure that for the next 10 to 15 years, we will be the place where their discretionary dollars are spent.”

But while maintaining a focus on the Boomer dollar, the industry is also acutely aware of an emerging powerhouse demographic.

“We’re seeing a paradigm shift in our industry,” said RVIA President Richard Coon. “For the first time, the Millennials (consumers aged 18-34) passed the Boomers in terms of overall numbers. It is imperative that the industry figures out how to reach this demographic.”

James Ashurst, vice president of communications and marketing for RVIA and administrator of the Go RVing marketing campaign, also focused on how Go RVing is reaching out to this new demographic. “This next generation of Millennials is very important to the industry’s success.”

Anchoring the second half of the agenda, in addition to a review of dealer survey results from Tim Hyland, president, RV Group for GE Capital’s Commercial Distribution Finance (CDF), was a manufacturers’ panel discussion spotlighting Jeff Rank, president of Forest River’s Prime Time Mfg. division; Thor President and CEO Bob Martin; Jayco President and COO Derald Bontrager; Winnebago Industries Inc. Chairman, President and CEO Randy Potts; and Grand Design RV Co. President Don Clark.