Recreational vehicle leaders attending President Barack Obama’s town hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind., today (Feb. 9) found some hope but not enough details to pronounce the economic stimulus bill he was lobbying as a solution to the area’s economic dilemma.
Speaking to a receptive audience of several thousand people that included a number of displaced RV workers in Concord High School’s gym, Obama stressed that “doing nothing is not an option.” During an 8-minute address and 35-minute question-and-answer period, Obama reviewed highlights of his Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.
The $827 billion measure is on track to pass the Senate on Tuesday, despite stiff opposition from the GOP.
“He has his heart in the right place,” said Ron Fenech, president and CEO of Keystone RV Co., Goshen, Ind., one of several officials from Thor Industries Inc. in attendance. “I’m hopeful, specific to the RV industry, there is some tangible money for RV financing… the details are unclear.”
Echoing Fenech’s observation was Rich Florea, president of Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., Goshen. “I didn’t see enough details today,” said Florea, who also likened the town hall meeting to a campaign event. “I would have liked to ask him today what specifically is in the bill that he doesn’t like. He started out by saying it’s not perfect and not everything is going to work…
“I want to see something tangible when they get done, like an interstate highway system or a TVA. I’m not sure there will be anything tangible that comes out of this.”
Fenech said freeing up the gridlock in the banking industry is essential and until that happens, the RV industry and the rest of the country “are all in the same boat.”
Dan Shea, president of Gulf Stream Coach Inc.’s towable division, Nappanee, Ind., said he was “very encouraged by Obama’s interest in coming to Elkhart. It was a clear message the president and Congress are interested in helping the credit problems. That said to me that this guy really understands the problems in our industry.”
Don Gundin of Elkhart-based Forest River Inc. was less encouraged by the president’s appearance.
“I was disappointed that he never answered a question,” said Gundin. “The closest one he came to answering was why he appointed people (to the cabinet) that didn’t pay their taxes. He came close to answering that question.”
Gundin said Obama was 100% correct when he talked about the problems of obtaining financing to buy RVs.
Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., accompanied Obama and spent an hour discussing credit issues with the president on the flight to Indiana.
“Take this back to the RV industry, he gets it,” Donnelly told RVBusiness.
Gundin fears that the points Obama is pushing will not offer short-term solutions to the economic gridlock and that his push for developing alternative fuels will take too long. “’Go green’ is five years away. If we want jobs tomorrow, we have to loosen up credit.”
Gundin said the town hall meeting, Obama’s first venture outside of Washington, D.C., since the inauguration, was nothing more than “an extension of his campaign.”
“He was on the road taking his story to the people just like Ronald Reagan did,” Gundin said. “It was not a fact-finding mission, it was a sales pitch. He came here to sell a package, he didn’t come here to empathize.”
Several other RV industry officials were in the audience, including Richard “Dicky” Riegel, COO of Thor; Jeff Kime, president of Four Winds International Inc.; Bob Wheeler, president of Airstream Inc.; Doug Gaeddert from Forest River; Gregg Fore of Dicor; Lindsey Stultz, formerly of the Odyssey Group; and Don Walter of Jayco Inc.
If nothing else, it was “a morale booster,” noted Richard Moore, mayor of Elkhart. Moore went to Washington on Jan. 21 and lobbied for bailout money totaling $92.4 million for a variety of public works projects to put some 2,300 people to work.