(L-R) Winnebago’s Scott Degnan and Michael Happe with Rep. Jackie Walorski at Thursday’s groundbreaking

Winnebago Industries Inc. broke ground Thursday (May 3) on a $12-plus million expansion project adjacent to its 300-employee Winnebago Towables operations in Middlebury, Ind.

Plans call for construction of a new manufacturing plant along with a dedicated panel lamination building expected to be completed later this year that will add 200,000 square feet of space — essesntially doubling the current facility — and as many as 120 new jobs.

In his remarks during the press event, Winnebago President and CEO Mike Happe indicated that this is indeed a seminal moment in the 60-year-old Iowa-based RV builder’s continued quest to grow its footprint in towable recreational vehicles – most notably the smaller Winnebago-branded Minnie line of conventional travel trailers — beyond Winnebago’s traditional motorhome business.

“This is a great day for Winnebago Industries,” said Happe, adding that his publicly held firm currently occupies eight campuses in seven cities in four states. “It’s especially a great day for this Winnebago Towables business. We were talking earlier today about the fact that the last major construction on this campus happened in 1994. So, this is 23, 24 years in the making — back when this was SunnyBrook RV — that this next phase of construction is now underway. And we’re excited about the growth that’s really propelled us to this point. But we’re equally excited about the growth that’s to come in the future.”

Winnebago purchased SunnyBrook back in 2010.

Alluding to comments issued earlier in the groundbreaking ceremony by U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Jimtown), Happe said the whole scenario speaks to a prevalent question right now in many circles about the broader U.S. economy’s ability to sustain its momentum and, specifically, whether the RV economy can do the same.

“And we’re here to tell you that we believe it can,” said Happe, whose company now manufactures towable RV’s through both its Grand Design and Winnebago Towables divisions located in the Middlebury area. “And while certainly being prudent and mindful and aware of all the different things that are happening (economically speaking), we believe this industry has secular tailwinds that will propel it to higher levels in the future.”

Happe underscored his long-term positive outlook by referring to upbeat RV Industry Power Breakfast presentations made earlier in the day and to recent record RV shipment reports from the RV Industry Association (RVIA). “A lot of the macroeconomic factors do continue to be positive,” he told the ground-breaking crowd. “More people are camping; more people are getting outdoors. People are finding ways to use RV’s in new and greater ways than ever before, so we are extremely enthusiastic about our long term future.

“And we wouldn’t be putting machines to work and shovels in the ground if we weren’t optimistic in the short term as well,” said Happe. “Winnebago Industries is a company on the move. And while we are 60 years old, we couldn’t be more excited about the investment that we’re making here in Elkhart County and in the city of Middlebury, around our Winnebago Towables business.”

Happe said that while Winnebago posted revenues of about $950 million two years ago, the company today is “approaching the $2 billion mark” thanks in large part to both organic growth and one key acquisition.

“We were also very pleased back in November of 2016 to acquire and welcome the Grand Design RV team into the Winnebago Industries family,” he concluded. “And they’ve only added more fuel to our direction as well. So as Scott (Winnebago Towables Vice President and GM Scott Degnan) said, we have great growth going on in this business, and in fact we have the top two growing towables businesses in all of the RV market. And so, we’re extremely excited about that, we think that bodes well for Winnebago Industries and our continued growth in the future.”

On hand for the Winnebago Towables groundbreaking were (left) Niall Geoghegan, director of operations for Winnebago Towables; Mary Cripe, town manager, Town of Middlebury; David Hess, vice president, Elkhart County Council; Mike Yoder, Elkhart County commissioner; Hodge Patel, Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly’s state director; Mike Happe, Winnebago president & CEO, Jackie Walorski, 2nd District U.S. Representative; Scott Degnan, vice president and general manager, Winnebago Towables; Chris West, vice president of operations for Winnebago; David Behr, North Central regional director, Indiana Economic Development Corp., and Mark Dobson, president & CEO of the Elkhart County Economic Development Corp.