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Report: Elkhart County Slowly Increasing Jobs

It was one of the hardest-hit areas in the country during the recession, but jobs are slowly coming back to Indiana’s Elkhart County.

WSBT TV, South Bend, reported there are more jobs in Elkhart County than there were two years ago, but there is still a ways to go before the county is back to pre-recession job levels.

News that Navistar International Corp. plans to move all of its motor coach manufacturing for Monaco RV LLC from Oregon to Elkhart County means 400 new jobs are on the way. Most of them will be production jobs, paying $15 or more an hour.

More than two dozen people stopped by Monaco in Wakarusa Tuesday (Aug. 2) to fill out applications for those jobs. Monaco President William Osborne said the company is accepting applications now, but it is not actively hiring. The goal is to have the 400 new jobs in place and have people working by the first quarter of next year.

It’s welcome news for the thousands of people in the area still out of work.

For unemployed or underemployed people like Scott Hershberger, the tough reality of translating his 18 years of experience in the RV industry on a job application is too familiar.

“I was working at Coachmen RV and they went out of business so I’m working at a furniture place right now. They’re kind of slow but [at least] we’re working,” he said.

County Commissioner Mike Yoder told WSBT a big challenge for Elkhart County is the age of its unemployed work force.

“We have people in my age group – upper 40s, mid 50s – that have been without work for a very long time and they’re very much honed in on manufacturing type jobs,” he said.

However, Elkhart County’s job market is slowly rebounding. Indiana Department of Workforce Development numbers show the county’s workforce peaked in 2006.

A review of the number of people working in Elkhart County shows: June 2006 – 135,500; June 2007 – 132,200; June 2008 – 123,500; June 2009 – 96,900; June 2010 – 105,900; June 2011 – 106,300

Yoder said those numbers should keep climbing.

“[We expect those jobs] in areas that are pretty exciting for the county. We’ve talked about becoming more diverse, a little less reliant on RVs, and that’s where we’re seeing most of our new job growth,” he said.

Yoder wouldn’t get specific about which companies are considering coming to Elkhart County or which existing ones might expand, but he did say the diversification of jobs is already happening in what he called the “advanced technology” field – areas such as bioengineering, life science jobs, nursing and electronics.

In the past few weeks, a metals company announced plans to relocate to Elkhart from Illinois, creating up to 100 jobs by 2014. Utilimaster is also moving its manufacturing operations to Wakarusa from Michigan, bringing up to 60 new jobs by next year.

But for people like Hershberger who need good, steady work now, more jobs can’t be here soon enough.

“I just hope it comes quick,” he said.


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