Friday, November 28, 2008

RV Industry is Down, But Has Been Worse

Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly - Fort Wayne,IN,USA
ELKHART COUNTY, Ind. -- Elkhart County unemployment spiked this year as recreational-vehicle manufacturers and suppliers closed and laid off workers.

An economic downturn affecting what is known as “the RV capital of the world” is not new. And according to indicators, so far, it’s not as bad as the downturn Elkhart weathered 30 years ago.

Wholesale RV shipments turned lower over the last year and a half as gas prices skyrocketed and the credit crisis took hold. But shipments this year are expected to remain higher than 2001, the most recent low point.

Al Hesselbart, historian at the RV-MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, said the downturn clearly is not as bad as one that occurred in the late 1970s.

“In the late ’70s, early ’80s unemployment was in the 20- to 21-percent range throughout Elkhart industry,” Hesselbart said. “When you need food stamps to go to the grocery store it’s bad. But everyone on the block is not in that situation.”

Nonseasonably adjusted unemployment rates in August and September of this year were more than double 2007 figures. The October unemployment rate reached 10.7 percent, the highest in the state, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

RV shipments dropped 9.5 percent in 2007 from the previous year, ending a five-year streak of increases. Shipments are expected to be 266,800 this year, which would be the lowest amount since 2001, when 256,800 units shipped and the industry was experiencing another downturn.

Economic-development agencies in Elkhart County want to recruit other industry clusters to the area so it is not so dependent on manufacturing, which is about 50 percent of the county’s economy. A regional marketing group is in the works to sell Elkhart, Kosciusko, Marshall and St. Joseph counties in Indiana, as well as three neighboring counties in southern Michigan to companies looking to move or expand.

The RV industry, which attracts more than its share of publicity, amounts to only 8 percent of Elkhart County’s manufacturing base. As they work to diversify the economy, county officials still want to ensure the RV industry does not die.
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