After more than a year’s debate, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) board voted Wednesday (Mar. 6) to set up a regional office in Elkhart, Ind., a northern Indiana community around which North America’s RV industry has circled its wagons in the post-recessionary era.

The board meeting ran in conjunction with the RVIA Annual Meeting, which opened Tuesday and concludes today at the Park Hyatt Aviara in Carlsbad, Calif.

“Yesterday’s vote exemplifies your board and your association’s commitment to its membership as well as both their desire and their ability to strategically execute change,” Chairman Doug Gaeddert, a general manager for Forest River Inc., Elkhart, told members Thursday during the association’s annual membership meeting.

The matter apparently was a source of contention among the national trade association’s leadership right down to the wire. One side argued that it was an unnecessary expense considering that things have been going well “” financially and otherwise “” for the 49-employee trade group based in Reston, Va., that represents the industry in areas of standards, legislative lobbying, technical training and show sponsorship. Others, however, cited the fact that more than 83% of national shipments are now generated by the “Michiana” area around Elkhart County “” up from 53% in 1999 “” felt the move was long overdue.

While Elkhart may not be the Midwest equivalent of the Silicon Valley, Gaeddert joked in his chairman’s remarks, he pointed out the area “certainly is the undisputed heart” of the RV industry.

“Since my board involvement began with RVIA back in 2003, one sentiment in particular has plagued me,” said Gaeddert from the podium at the San Diego-area hotel. “This association, which does such a tremendous job promoting, defending and protecting our membership and the industry as a whole, is often perceived somewhat like the federal government. But by firmly establishing an RVIA office in northern Indiana, it’s somewhat like bringing a piece of the government to the people and changing what I’ve too often heard as ‘us’ and ‘them’ to ‘we.'”

Further details on the new office are to be released soon, added Gaeddert, who applauded the board and the association for having the “courage and wisdom to make this bold, historic and timely step forward.”

Also in his remarks, Gaeddert addressed the current state of the market, an industrial sector that clearly has faced its share of weather-related obstacles this winter.

“Despite the terrible weather and plant closings that plagued Michiana in January, 2014 is off to a great start,” he told RVIA’s members. “January’s numbers have now been finalized and total industry shipments were up 4.5% over January of 2013. This was in spite of approximately 20% of the month’s potential build and ship days being forfeited to the weather.”

Yet, Gaeddert asserted, obstacles do exist, such as material shortages, labor issues and a transportation sector that is struggling to keep up.

“Many transport yards are at capacity and can’t even physically store any more units, much less keep up with shipping,” he added. “There are probably in excess of 20,000 undelivered units coming off February’s month-end awaiting delivery from transport yards. This has been an ongoing and growing issue for the past few years that isn’t getting any better. It’s kind of like (comedian) Bill Murray getting stuck in ‘Groundhog Day.'”

RVIA President Richard Coon, in turn, described an association that continues to gain strength, despite having cut employment from 61 to 49 since the recession while also watching its member supplier roster dip from 320 in 2008 to 200 in 2014 and its manufacturing membership culled from 105 to 66 in that same time period.

He also outlined a busy list of board initiatives that includes a continuing focus on state franchise laws, an increasing participation in technical training, growing RVIA’s membership by 10% and developing a “formalized industry unity process” that involves a general outreach to both the private and public campground sectors in the wake of a low profile January industry meeting.

A number of award recipients, meanwhile, also were announced, including the “Distinguished Service to the RV Industry Award” to Mary “Mike” Hutya, RVIA’s retiring vice president of meetings and shows; the “David J. Humphreys RV Industry Unity Award” to Jim Sheldon, a former RVIA chairman representing the Allied Recreation Group’s Monaco RV; and the “National Service Award” to Bank of the West’s Mark Beecher.

Other awards included:

“¢  National Education Service Award: Jeff Rutherford, Airxel Inc.

“¢ Distinguished Achievement in RV Jouralism Award: Chuck Woodbury, RVTravel.com.

“¢ RVIA Special Award: Walt Bennet, Thor Industries Inc.

“¢ National Scholastic Award: Eleonore Hamm, RVDA of Canada.

“¢  Distinguished Achievement in RV Standards Award: Leslie Woodward, Fairview Fittings.

“¢ National Legislative Award: Ralph Simoni, RVIA’s California lobbyist.