Sen. Joe Donnelly (L) with Forest River CEO Pete Liegl

A capacity crowd of over 900 packed the RV/MH Hall of Fame’s Northern Indiana Event Center Thursday (May 3) morning, as representatives across all segments of the industry assembled for the sixth edition of the RV Power Breakfast — a gathering that has become a mainstay on the industry’s event circuit. (To view a slideshow scroll to the right side of the RVBUSINESS.com home page. Photos by Shawn Spence.)

Facilitated by RVBusiness, the Power Breakfast again offered a formidable lineup of speakers, providing attendees with a snapshot of hot button topics and pressing issues impacting the RV and campground industries. Sponsors for this year’s event include Airxcel, Cummins Inc., Dometic, Forest River Inc., Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), Thor Industries Inc., Spartan Motors Inc., Wells Fargo CDF and Winnebago Industries Inc.

Headlining the roster of speakers were keynote addresses by Rick May, senior national advisor for recreation at the Department of the Interior, and U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Granger). Also presenting during the breakfast were U.S. Sen. Todd Young, 3rd District U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, RVIA President Frank Hugelmeyer, Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) President Phil Ingrassia, KOA President Toby O’Rourke and Community Foundation of Elkhart County President Pete McCown.

While representing a diverse set of backgrounds, the slate of speakers in the first portion of the program all delivered a common theme –– the vibrancy and strength of the RV industry as it again motors to record sales, and its importance as an economic driver for the region and on a national scale.

Opening the morning’s presentations, McCown acknowledged the role the RV industry plays in helping create better communities in northern Indiana. 

“Elkhart County, one of the hardest hit areas in the nation during the Great Recession, is in the midst of a renaissance, with building projects and innovation occurring at a rapid pace mainly due to the RV industry,” he said. “These are the types of things that you are creating if you continue to build RVs here so that people can continue to go RVing around the world. Our community relies on each one of you. You are a critical part of what we are attempting to accomplish in our communities.” 

Rep. Jackie Walorski addresses Power Breakfast

Young noted, “I can’t think of another region in the country that has a better marriage to a particular business segment than the RV industry. The industry’s success brings a vibrancy to the entire area.”

In her turn at the podium, Walorski underscored the industry’s impact on area families, noting, “More than 80% of North America’s RV’s are built here. Hoosiers are proud to be at the center of this vital, ‘Made in America’ industry. It’s an industry that drives our local economy and provides great jobs. Our families depend on the RV industry’s continued innovation in growth, and I am grateful for all you do to keep our country moving.”

Donnelly, who used the Power Breakfast as a kickoff to a statewide tour in his 2001-vintage Forest River Georgetown campaign bus, offered insight into how the industry is perceived on Capitol Hill.

“In Washington, when people hear the RV industry mentioned, they smile,” offered Donnelly. “The industry truly reflects all the good things about this country — hard work, entrepreneurism, creativity, drive, determination and a real sense of teamwork among the manufacturers, suppliers and dealers. I remember when the economy tanked, and everybody I talked to in the RV industry told me they’d be back because they never, never give up.

“I also get asked what’s the secret sauce in the industry,” he added. “I tell them it’s a willingness to work, and also a willingness to take a risk.”

In line with the industry’s growth, however, comes a set of challenges, most prominently a shortage of workers.

“It’s obvious that the industry needs more workers,” Young said. “I know you are stealing workers from one another on a daily basis, but there has to be another way. There’s not one silver bullet solution, but part of the answer is attracting more people to the area. But the key is training.

“The truth is that people don’t need to have a four-year degree to get a good-paying job. There are other avenues to success and they come right through your factories.”

Walorski also pointed to the recent tariffs levied by the Trump administration on steel and aluminum as a topic of high interest to the industry. “The president is right to go after the bad actors. But even the mere threat of tariffs is enough to drive up prices. We have seen the tariffs narrowed and we are making progress with retroactive tariff relief for businesses. But we need to keep working.”

Donnelly stressed that one of the key factors providing a major thrust for the industry in Congress was the “bipartisanship efforts that exist.”

“I am blessed to have a great partner in the Senate in Todd Young, along with a wonderful congressional delegation as well as great state and local leaders,” he said. “It’s not D’s or R’s, or reds and blues, it’s red, white and blue. It’s how we will keep this thing going, making sure the promise is stronger for the next generation. We want to help you keep creating the American dream.”

In another example of bipartisanship, Walorski, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, expounded on the strides made by the RV Caucus which she resides on and was instrumental in forming. “The job of the RV Caucus is to create a bipartisan forum to educate members of Congress on issues facing the industry and highlight the critical role that the RV industry plays in the economy. When you succeed, then your communities thrive.”