If a recession usually affects the RV industry first, this sector should also be the first to improve when the economy bounces back, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. But that is exactly what Elkhart County residents in northern Indiana saw in the final months of 2009 — a glimmer of hope that the worst is over, after some RV makers announced they will begin hiring again to keep up with an uptick in sales, according to the South Bend Tribune.

Still, the process of pulling out of the recession will likely be slow and protracted across the region.

Area unemployment — after peaking in early 2009 — should begin to stabilize in the early part of the year, although some early 2010 job losses are probable as some businesses continue adjusting to the weak economy.

“Confidence in the economy should improve in 2010, though many will remain concerned about employment, particularly earlier in the new year,” said Grant Black, assistant director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at Indiana University South Bend.

A full financial recovery could take several years here and nationwide, but the generally improving financial markets will help confidence rebound in the months ahead, Black said.

“As a result of bolstered confidence, signs of recovery, and continued low interest rates,” he said, “consumer spending should increase — though not as strongly as desired, which will boost demand to some degree in many markets.”

Unemployment rises, starts to fall

What a difference a year makes. In early 2008, Elkhart County’s unemployment rate was less than 5%. In early 2009, it was the highest in the country at nearly 20%, largely because of stagnant recreational vehicle sales.

A number of companies, including RV makers Keystone RV Co., Jayco Inc. and Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., announced layoffs during the first half of 2009. Robert Bosch and K&M Machine-Fabricating laid off workers, while Patriot Homes and the South Bend Mohawk Flush Doors unit closed.

AM General announced layoffs toward year-end, but more companies began hiring as 2009 came to a close.

Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC announced in November that it would hire 400 people, while Keystone planned to hire 100 people heading into 2010. AM General is expected to begin producing taxis this year in Mishawaka, and Navistar International Inc. plans to commence electric truck production in Wakarusa.