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Centennial Event Tonight Honors RV Workers

What a difference a year makes.

Last year, the RV industry was reeling with its lowest sales since 1991 and some companies were being forced out of business, according to the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune.

RVIA_CentennialBut this year business is looking up, what with shipments projected to increase by 39% in 2010.

With a better mood for a party, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) will celebrate 100 years of RVs this summer.

The biggest of the events will take place today (June 7) at the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart. Everyone from workers to factory owners will be feted along with the product at a 100th anniversary party, which will include video tributes, a band, food, fun and fireworks.

The festivities will be part of June’s monthlong RV Centennial Celebration.

But the entire week will feature various committee meetings and events as more than 200 RVIA members come to South Bend for committee meetings plus the group’s annual meeting — all at the Century Center.

The annual meeting is typically held in more exotic locations, but it’s coming to Michiana this year for several reasons, including the fact that Michiana is where much of the industry is located.

“Because of the centennial, we felt it was important and proper to celebrate the event at the museum in Elkhart and have the weeklong event in South Bend,” said Gary LaBella, RVIA vice president and chief marketing officer. “Because of the economic situation, we are trying to make it easier on our members.”

And central to a two-hour festival at the museum on Monday, will be a “Salute to RV Workers,” with some on hand at the invitation-only event.

“This is an industry full of entrepreneurs and self-made guys and interesting people who built the industry up in their own garages,” LaBella said. “It’s important, and they all recognize it. Our RVIA and our manufacturers and supplier members certainly recognize that the industry will only go as far as the work force and the integrity of the work force takes it.

“I don’t know how it compares to other industries. But we feel that the craftsmanship and the quality of work that comes out of our RV factories, and obviously the Elkhart and South Bend area factories are a big part of (the reason). The work is extremely well-perceived nationally.”

Included in the video salute to workers will be interviews with some of the workers as well as owners talking about how much the work force means to them.

The party in Elkhart is expected to have 500 people in attendance.

Another part of the yearlong celebration, that actually started back in December with the 47th National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky., was RV historian David Woodworth’s tour this spring to showcase the old and the new of the RV industry.

Besides celebrating the 100th anniversary, the RVIA also hopes the public recognizes that the RV industry has bounced back from bad times before.

“Given the year that the industry just went through, it’s just a fantastic time to have something that everybody can rally around and feel good about,” LaBella said.

“It reminds everyone that we have a long storied history that is full of ups and downs.

“We have been through wars and times of peace, and fuel lines and all kinds of fads and the cyber revolution, and yet the industry is still going strong.

“We feel bad about last year, but it’s nice to be reminded that there is no doubt we will be back strong.”

LaBella made the comments in an interview well ahead of the recent news that April’s wholesale shipments being up 85% over a year ago and 2.5% over March of this year.

“The recovery is robust the first third of the year,” RVIA spokesman Kevin Broom said.

History is indeed on the industry’s side.

“An industry cannot be around 100 years unless it can absorb a few bumps in the road along the way,” LaBella said. “We have had many bumps in the road and always come back stronger than ever.”

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