Elkhart County’s workmanship was on display this week at the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Ky.
In two sports arenas, hallways, meeting rooms and expansive convention space, 318 exhibitors who make anything and everything for RVs had their goods on display. Of those exhibitors, at least 83 were from Elkhart County, the Goshen (Ind.) News reported.
In a hallway at the Kentucky Exposition Center, Mike Blankinship held up a flexible light strip with a bright yellow glow. It got people’s attention.
Blankinship is national sales manager for Vista Manufacturing in Elkhart. The company makes and distributes light strips of all types. Mirrored glass panels lit with imbedded LED lights, as well as a curvey mirror with white lights sparkling like the stars in the Big Dipper, drew plenty of attention from passersby. One woman stopped, moved her finger around the mirror and told her husband, “Oh, I really like that.”
At the RV show, which ended Thursday, suppliers attempted to get their products noticed by manufacturers and manufacturers attempted to get their products noticed by dealers. Dealers walked and talked a lot. They went from manufacturer to manufacturer looking for good deals and good products.
In this endless cycle of supply and demand, demand and supply, a dizzying array of products made in Elkhart County were on display. There were massive Class A motorhomes more than 40 feet long that cost close to $1 million. There were also the tiny LED lights that Blankinship was hawking.
The company’s offerings were a mix of products made in Elkhart and those that come from overseas, where Blankinship said the cheap labor makes local production of some lights unprofitable. But Vista workers take those imported LED products and put their own stamp on them.
“We bring it in and take it and adapt it to what the customer requires,” Blankinship said.
That may mean filling an order for 50 custom strip lights, or creating a clear plastic molding to hold the lights inside an RV.
That kind of service keeps the company of about 30 employees going. And the RV show was obviously important to Vista workers.
“The more we sell,” Blankinship said, “the more work we have.”
Demand ‘gone crazy’
Nearby in Hall 1, a model Class A RV was attracting many sets of eyes. The Miller brothers, Ryan and Darren, were showing off their family business, Paul’s Welding Inc. of Nappanee. The model RV was a prop for the steel fabricated industrial lift systems and work stations the company designs for and installs in RV plants.
“Dad just started doing small stuff,” Ryan Miller explained, “and the demand for the RV industry in the past 15 years has gone crazy.”
Now, Paul Miller designs all sorts of lift equipment to make the manufacture of RVs easier and safer. There is even a machine that lifts and turns an RV chassis on its side to make production easier.
The company’s skilled workers include welders, fabricators and material handlers.
“When we leave (an RV plant), it will be completely set up for production,” Miller said. “Way over half our sales are RV sales.”
And of course, there were RVs at the RV show.
Dealers strolled in and out of the Jayco Entegra Coach display. The Entegra is a Class A motorhome that exudes luxury. While the dealers were looking at color schemes and floorplans, Tadd Jenkins, national sales manager for Entegra, talked about quality products from Elkhart County.
“The customer is demanding that (quality),” he said. “If you are going to survive in the marketplace, you have to give them a product that gives them the enjoyment they are looking for on a consistent basis.”
Much of the Entegra work force comes from Middlebury’s Amish community, which Jenkins praised as being productive and able to put a motorhome together.
“The wiring on these things,” he said, “is exponentially more difficult than a towable.”
The show ended Thursday.