Just days after Forest River Inc. inked a deal to buy the sprawling Utilimaster Corp. campus on Wakarusa’s east side, Forest River subsidiary Prime Time Manufacturing is already building RVs at the site.
“We’re already into production,” said Jeff Rank, president of Prime Time. “We started moving stuff at the end of the year in preparation.”
The Elkhart Truth reported that the sale, announced last week by Utilimaster, brought some certainty back to the town. When Utilimaster announced 11 months ago that they were moving to Bristol, “that came out of the blue,” said Jeff Troxel, Wakarusa town manager who was a member of the town council at that point.
With the Forest River purchase now finished, “I’m excited about it,” said Troxel. He knew Prime Time was outgrowing its space just down the road from the Utilimaster campus. “I didn’t want to lose Prime Time,” he said.
“Hopefully Forest River uses the facility to its utmost potential,” Troxel said.
Pete Liegl, president and CEO of Elkhart-based Forest River, said, “We wanted to stay in that community with Prime Time because Prime Time has done so well and Jeff Rank has done an excellent job down there.”
In an interview with RVBUSINESS.com, Rank reported much of the production that Prime Time has moved into the former Utilimaster plant since the holidays, including Crusader and Sanibel towable production, was located until the end of the year at the former Hart Housing Group facilities in Wakarusa, recently sold by Forest River to Maryville, Tenn.-based Clayton Homes, a sister division with Forest River of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. according to Rank.
Rank says the Hart Housing sale was structured such that Prime Time’s operations could stay in that Hart Housing facility until the end of the year. So, Prime Time moved over the holidays — the end result being that Prime Time today is located in the original plant it has occupied on the south side of Wakarusa — the former Travel Supreme plant — in addition to part of the Utilimaster complex that Spartan’s Utilimaster commercial truck unit is vacating, a total of 325,000 square feet of production space for 400-employee Prime Time.
Rank says things are going well with the move, noting, “Oh, it’s fantastic. I mean, quite frankly, Prime Time loves being in Wakarusa. I mean, the town’s been good to us. So we were thankful as we were moving out of Clayton that Forest River was able to do this because we wanted to stay in Wakarusa, and obviously it’s good for the community that the jobs we have at Prime Time are staying in Wakarusa. On top of that, there’s a lot of buildings and a lot of land over there that Forest River has bought that could play into future expansions and give us additional opportunities to grow and extend our operations.
“You know, we’re going to continue growing. Prime Time grew 40-some percent last year in market share and we’re off to a great start again this year, and we’ve got several products that are actually being built in that same plant. As those products mature and get more volume, we’re going to need additional facilities for them as well. So, it would only be my hope that we could continue to grow there (in the Wakarusa area), but that’s a long time away. This deal just recently went down, and I can’t actually tell you that we’ve (Forest River) sat down as a group and talked about it.”
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