Low unemployment rates and an improving economy in Indiana’s Elkhart County – influenced heavily by a booming RV industry – have challenged area businesses to find competent, qualified workers, according to a story in the South Bend Tribune.
The Tribune reported that the county’s unemployment rate for May was 3.9 percent, while June’s was 3.8 percent.
According to Phillip Penn, president and CEO of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, 4% unemployment is generally considered full employment, so Elkhart County businesses are feeling the pinch.
The trick for employers, particularly RV-related firms, is attracting workers with a specific set of job skills and experience. RV manufacturers are constantly competing for qualified laborers because of the industry’s prominence in the area. That need is magnified when unemployment is low, and business is good.
“It’s challenging to find employees for those jobs,” according to Norvis Martin, branch manager at Manpower, one of the larger agencies that helps place people in temporary jobs, told the Tribune.
“Because we are so heavily involved in the RV industry,” Martin said, “that industry always is looking for experienced workers.”
One way to overcome the shortage of workers is to be creative – and generous. Goshen, Ind.-based Keystone RV Co. has 2,600 employees, with 2,400 working in production. In the past year alone, the company has added more than 600 people, according to Ron Fenech, president of Keystone.
“We try to control our own destiny,” Fenech said. “We are the highest-paying RV company in Elkhart County. We get the cream of the crop.”
Penn noted that the RV industry is known for workers who will leave one job for another paying 10 or 20 cents more per hour. Fenech admitted it’s a challenge to find workers who offer both the needed skills and the loyalty to stay with one employer.
Although a healthy RV industry and the highest concentration of manufacturing jobs in the state – 55% – drives Elkhart County’s economy, officials are actively seeking to broaden and diversify the job base.
Bill Bradley, the head of the Elkhart County Economic Development Corp., said the county may have lost ground over the past few years as several major employers such as Bayer Corp., moved out and some of those workers went to the RV industry.
Bradley said EDC’s first goal is “keeping what we have.” But beyond that, the EDC is intent on diversifying the economic base, growing high-tech businesses from within the county as well as attracting new businesses from the outside, and developing a work force that is ready to fill those jobs.