A common thread ran through the recent expansion announcements from the two largest employers in Indiana’s Elkhart County, Thor Industries Inc. and Forest River Inc.

According to a report by the Elkhart Truth, the projects are planned for areas just outside Elkhart County where the recreational vehicle manufacturers believe they’ll have an easier time finding workers needed to meet growing demand for RVs in the coming years.

In announcing earlier this month the acquisition of Cruiser RV and DRV, Chris Hermon, president of Thor subsidiary Heartland RV, said it can expand more easily in LaGrange County partly because it offers “a more stable workforce that is less affected by the recent tight labor conditions we’ve seen in Elkhart.”

Then came news Tuesday (Jan. 27) that Forest River plans to build a new $7 million RV production complex in White Pigeon, Mich., creating 396 jobs over the next five years.

Ron Kitchens, CEO of Southwest Michigan First, told MLive.com that Forest River needs plumbers, electricians, carpenters and people with similar skills.

“They just simply didn’t have the labor ability in Northern Indiana,” Kitchens told MLive.com.

While stressing the importance of the RV industry to Elkhart, Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president/CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County, said the Thor and Forest River projects are further evidence of the need to diversify away from assembly employers, according to The Truth.

“We’re blessed that 83% of the RV market is made in Elkhart County and it’s booming at this time,” she said. “The region and neighboring states are benefiting from their success. But this reinforces the importance of a new focus to development and maintaining the economic health of our local market. By diversifying the types of businesses that are attracted to the local economy, we help offset the burden that existing companies are experiencing with our limited labor pool.”

Heiden-Guss said a company recently approached her with a desire to enter the local RV market, but she declined to help craft an incentive package.

“I said, ‘We’re not actively pursuing these types of businesses,’” she said. “We’re looking for different types of companies that need different skill sets.”

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