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Elkhart Co. Builders Dig Out from Winter Storm

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January 8, 2014 by   Leave a Comment

Snow and bitter cold hit Indiana's Elkhart County

RV companies in northern Indiana are back to work today (Jan. 8) after a foot of snow, followed by intense cold, blanketed the area where most North American RVs are produced.

“We shut down Monday and Tuesday, and that’s the first time in my 12 years we ever had to shut down,” said Tim Graber, general manager of Forest River Inc.’s Class C motorhome plant on Elkhart’s west side. “It was just not worth it. With the combination of the temperatures plus the road conditions, I didn’t feel like it was in the best interest to have employees come in.”

He added, “Elkhart County had the state of emergency those two days. I would have felt terrible if somebody felt they had to come to work and something happened to them.”

After Sunday’s foot of snow, bitter cold air blew through northern Indiana, with wind chills reaching 40 degrees below zero, according to the National Weather Service in Northern Indiana.

Forest River’s Class C plant did operate last Thursday and Friday before shutting down due to the weather, according to Graber. “We’re running some extra units here. I still haven’t made up my mind whether I’m going to work on Saturday,” he told RVBUSINESS.com. “We don’t want to miss some of these show dates – the show season is going in high gear here. It was certainly a disruption, but it should be fairly easy for us to make it up.”

About 16 miles away on the south side of Goshen, Keystone RV Co. Director of Communications Jim Mac reported that “we recovered and are back in business.”

“We were shut down for two days and that was coming back from the Christmas shutdown,” Mac said. “It just meant we started up two days later. We’ll be able to make up any production loss and dealers won’t see any major impact.”

At KZRV LP and its Venture RV division in Shipshewana, production won’t be back to normal until Thursday, according to Dave Boggs, director of marketing.

“Tomorrow our work force will be back in full swing,” said Boggs. “Our factories would have been shut down anyway on Monday for Old Christmas — it’s an Amish holiday. And it was a receiving day, so we all got pushed back two days.”

Boggs added, “Due to the inclement weather that we’ve had and the work force that we’ve hired here at KZ — 60% to 65% of our work force are the Amish community — we want to make sure they’re safe. And what we run into is, with the low wind chill factors and the extreme amount of snow that we received, it was just better to protect our work force rather than build trailers at this point. Our work force is our biggest asset that we have at KZ, and they’re part of our family, just like our dealer base and our retail customers are, and we want to protect them and make sure that they’re well with their families and keep them safe. That’s why we needed to close down.”

Like Forest River, Keystone and other area manufacturers, it hit at crunch time for KZ. “It’s pushed our production back a couple of days. We have plenty of orders that we need to get out for dealer (retail) shows, which are starting this week and running for the next three months. So, we’ve got a lot of work to do when they come back. That’s for sure,” Boggs said.

Graber said he plans to get out of the area this weekend, heading to Tampa for the Florida RV Trade Association’s (FRVTA) RV SuperShow next week. “I’m going to get out while I can,” he said.

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