Elkhart Mayor Recaps Rebound in NPR Interview

January 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Dick Moore

Editor’s note: The following is a summary of an NPR interview with Elkhart, Ind., Mayor Dick Moore discussing the city’s recovery, driven by a rebound in the RV industry. To hear the entire interview on NPR’s Here & Now click here.

While Congress debates the budget, President Obama is traveling to North Carolina to deliver a speech about the economy at North Carolina State University.

As reported by NPR, he’s expected to continue his push for an extension of long term unemployment benefits. Another place he’s visited several times is Elkhart, Ind.

Elkhart is famous for it’s production of recreational vehicles, but RV sales took a hit during the recession. As a result, Elkhart’s economy also declined, reaching an unemployment rate of 20%. President Obama even visited Elkhart in 2009 to highlight the need for an economic stimulus bill in Congress.

But for the past year, RV sales have been going strong, as the economy and housing markets rebound.

Elkhart’s mayor Dick Moore says that the tough times during the recession would be a lesson for the future.

“I think we got through that, and we learned a lot of lessons,” Moore tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. “I don’t think these things will have the same effect on us again if they happen again. We’re not going to go without because of the same things that happened before.”

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Elkhart County Rebound Grows Jobs, Economy

November 4, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

In March of 2009, Indiana’s Elkhart County had an unemployment rate that was 20.3% — far higher than the national average of 8.5%. But more than four years later, the numbers in the recovery may be just as stunning.

The South Bend Tribune reported that since 2010, 7,025 jobs have been announced for the Elkhart County economy and more than 4,000 of those have been filled already.

According to statistics from the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County (EDC), the county has been on a pretty steady, if not spectacular, increase for a while.

In addition to the jobs, more than $282 million in investment has been announced since 2010.

There are a lot of reasons for the rebound of one of the hardest-hit areas in the country during the Great Recession, but many would agree, in Elkhart County, the comeback begins with the work of the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County.

The entreprenural spirit of Elkhart County is often cited as a key reason for the rebound by Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president and chief executive officer of the EDC of Elkhart County, and Dave Ogle, director of business retention and expansion for the EDC.

But the highly organized efforts of the EDC of Elkhart County also have to be credited, said Gary McPhail, chief financial officer with Lippert Components Inc. and Kinro Manufacturing Inc., subsidiaries of Drew Industries Inc.

In June, Drew moved its corporate headquarters from White Plains, N.Y., to Elkhart, resulting in about six new jobs.

But of greater importance to the Michiana area is that its subsidiaries — Lippert and Kinro — are in the process of adding 500 new jobs that will push Drew’s total employment in the Elkhart County area to 5,300 by 2016.

And Lippert and Kinro project another 300 jobs being added after 2016.

Lippert makes windows, mattresses, upholstered seating, leveling devices, suspension products, slideouts and other accessories for the RV industry as well as components for the manufactured housing industry. Kinro produces doors and windows for the RV and manufactured housing industries.

McPhail said Ogle helped guide the company through the system and made presentations at city and county meetings.

To read the entire article click here.

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Elkhart Took Biggest Hit; Sees Biggest Recovery

September 26, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

In 2012, Indiana’s Elkhart County ranked No. 1 in the nation for job growth. While the rest of the country averaged 1.9% growth, Elkhart County experienced a remarkable 7.4%.

WNDU, South Bend, reported that back in July, the county’s manufacturing industry added some 5,479 jobs. But when Elkhart made headlines for its high unemployment years ago, it’s no surprise its recovery is equally notable.

During the the summer organizations like Work One continued to help with job numbers; placing unemployed individuals into new and vacant positions. Additional hiring by individual businesses also contributed to the path toward recovery.

It is well known that Elkhart County’s economy is inextricably linked to the RV industry. When Americans stopped buying RVs at the time of the recession the entire county suffered.

Kip Ellis, vice president of sales and marketing at Atwood Mobile Products in Elkhart said 2013 has been a good year for the entire industry. Atwood is one of the many businesses that manufactures RV components, and as such is dependent on RV sales for its own growth.

Ellis said the recovery didn’t occur in “leaps and bounds,” instead it’s been a gradual five-year process.

Manufacturing in Elkhart County was forced to “wise up” in order to survive. Companies like Atwood have made new investments, slowly hired employees and adjusted to match consumer sentiment.

Over the past few years the economic climate in Elkhart has improved. Businesses are leaner and more efficient. According to the Chamber of Commerce, the task at hand is looking towards creating new types of jobs and figuring out where businesses encounter red tape.

To read the entire story or view a video click here.



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Boom in RV Sales Boosts Elkhart Co. Economy

July 27, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: The following is a report by WNDU, South Bend., Ind., on the boom in the RV industry and the impact on Elkhart County. To view the entire article and watch an accompanying video click here.

It’s been a great year for the RV industry. According to a report by WNDU, South Bend, Ind., through the midway point of 2013, RV wholesale shipments tracked by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) climbed to 174,871 units — a 12.8% increase from the same point in 2012.

“We approach every year cautiously optimistic,” said Jeff Runels, vice president of sales for Keystone RV Co. “This year has been a really pleasant surprise, we thought coming out of last year — which was, again, a pleasant surprise — we might level off.”

Beyond the numbers themselves is an economic impact that runs deep in Michiana.

Elkhart County produces about 80% of all RVs made in the United States. Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president of the Economic Development Council of Elkhart County, explained that some 30 RV manufacturers have their corporate headquarters based out of Elkhart County, as do more than 100 industry suppliers.

Runels said that as Keystone sees prolonged increases in sales it starts to increase numbers of employees and subsequently its manufacturing output. The Goshen-based builder, like most other RV manufacturers, saw across the board increases in product demand – from smaller, entry-level units, to the larger and more upscale units.

“When you get a year like this, when you do have that uptick in sales it allows you to really analyze where that uptick is and try to take advantage of those new spots, those new buyers.” According to Runels, they actively watch and see what new buyers are interested in so they can accommodate those interests. That’s why in 2012 and the beginning of 2013 Keystone was able to add several new models.

Runels added that the company almost restored its employment to pre-recession levels by the end of 2012, but thanks to the added boom, they’ve reached almost record levels this year.

To view the entire article and view the video click here.

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Elkhart County Moving to Unify ‘Tax Phase-ins’

May 23, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The Goshen City Council became the first governmental body in Elkhart County to adopt a uniform policy for tax phase-ins when it passed the ordinance Tuesday night (May 21).

As reported by The Elkhart Truth, the Elkhart County Intergovernmental Forum recommended governing bodies within the county to work toward establishing a policy and standards regarding property tax abatements and applications.

Tuesday was the first time the policy went before a governing body for consideration, but the policy will be reviewed in the near future in Elkhart, Nappanee and other towns and cities in the area.

Mark Brinson, the director of Goshen’s Community Development Department, said there were three goals in setting up a county-wide policy for tax phase-ins.

The overarching goal was to deal with abatements in a uniform way that would feature a single application, fee structure and general policy.

The second goal was to make sure tax increment financing (TIF) revenues were not negatively affected.

“TIF revenues are becoming more and more important as a way of funding infrastructure and we look at that as economic development in Elkhart County,” Brinson explained.

To read the entire article in The Elkhart Truth click here.

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Report: Elkhart Co. Led Nation for Job Growth

March 29, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Indiana’s Elkhart County led the nation in job growth between September 2011 and September 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Thursday (March 28).

“Elkhart, Ind., had the largest percentage increase in employment (6.9%) among the largest U.S. counties,” according to Thursday’s announcement. The national growth rate was 1.6%.

The Elkhart Truth reported that manufacturing led the way in Elkhart County, gaining 4,734 jobs over that time, a growth of 10.1%, according to the BLS quarterly census of employment and wages. “In Elkhart County, what else but manufacturing,” said Dave Daugherty, president of the Goshen Chamber of Commerce.

Manufacturing has an oversize importance to the economy, and roughly half of Elkhart County manufacturing is related to the recreational vehicle industry. That industry has seen strong growth over the last couple of years.

According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), RV shipments grew 13.6% in 2012, and they are off to a strong start for this year, with January up 30% over the previous January, and February up 6% over the previous February.

That led to new positions at RV makers — the RVIA estimates 83% of all North American RVs are made in and around Elkhart County — and at RV suppliers.

To read the entire article click here.


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1st ‘RV Industry Power Breakfast’ Slated May 9

March 26, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

A first-ever “RV Industry Power Breakfast” featuring a prestigious slate of local and national speakers is scheduled to bring together key elements of the U.S. recreational vehicle industry with an array of area industry people and civic leaders on the morning of May 9 at the Northern Indiana Event Center and RV/MH Hall of Fame in the RV manufacturing hub of Elkhart, Ind., according to an RVBusiness press release.

The inaugural Power Breakfast, kicking off with a 7 a.m. sunrise buffet and 7:45 a.m. program, is facilitated by Elkhart-based RVBusiness magazine and sponsored by Dicor Corp., Dometic Corp., the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County, Forest River Inc., GE Capital, Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), Spartan Motors Inc. and Thor Industries Inc.

This new event comes at a time when RV builders and suppliers are doing fairly well in terms of national retail sales and wholesale shipments during a post-recessionary era in which about 85% of national shipments are now centered around northern Indiana’s Elkhart and LaGrange counties and an array of smaller area communities like Goshen, LaGrange, Middlebury, Bristol, Wakarusa and Nappanee, the release states.

“Officials from these towns are being personally invited to the event, as are representatives of relevant trade associations like the Reston, Va.-based Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), the Fairfax, Va.-based RV Dealers Association (RVDA) and the Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (RVIC) in Indianapolis,” reports BJ Thompson, president of BJ Thompson Associates in Elkhart and chairman of RVIA’s Public Relations Committee who is in charge of the inaugural Power Breakfast on behalf of RVBusiness.

“There was, speaking on behalf of the RVB staff, a sense that we could all do a better job at times of working together as a cohesive force here in Elkhart to showcase the power and job-building potential of the U.S. RV industry and, at the same time, bring to Elkhart some of the general and industry-specific intelligence that exists in the current economic climate for area industry people to absorb,” stated RVB Publisher Sherm Goldenberg.

Dicor President Gregg Fore and Forest River General Manager Doug Gaeddert, immediate past chairman and current chair of RVIA, respectively, will share emcee duties at the morning event at which there will be a fast-paced slate of speakers, including a short teleconference with U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), if, in fact, the first-term senator is available with Congress in session.

Two anchor presentations are planned: In the first half, RVIA President Richard Coon, RVIA Vice President of Public Relations & Advertising James Ashurst and RVIA Vice President of Administration Mac Bryan will provide an overview of the industry’s 2012 status and a quick look at 2013’s opportunities and challenges.

In the second half, KOA CEO Jim Rogers, fresh off his January appearance on the CBS hit series “Undercover Boss,” will present some in-your-face feedback from campers who annually visit Montana-based KOA’s 489 U.S. and Canadian parks.

Tickets for the May 9 event are $25 each with tables of eight available for $175. Look for a notice shortly for online registration.

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Elkhart Chamber Celebrates Region’s Recovery

February 8, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

There really were plenty of smiles Thursday (Feb. 7) at the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting in the crowded Crystal Ballroom at the Lerner Theatre.

And keynote speaker David C. Chavern, executive vice president and chief operating officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, agreed those smiles were there for good reason.

The South Bend Tribune reported that Chavern toured two Elkhart companies, RV maker Thor Industries Inc. and CTS Corp., before the luncheon. He cited Elkhart as a positive example of the nation’s slow recovery from the recession.

But he added, as has been seen in recent months with numerous job additions in the recreational vehicle sector, it has an advantage.

“They are ahead of the curve,” he said in an interview prior to his speech. “One of the big advantages Elkhart has is a really strong manufacturing base.

“And you are seeing a resurgence in manufacturing in the U.S., and I think Elkhart is benefiting from it.”

To view the entire article click here.



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Elkhart County Sees Healthy Job Growth in ’12

January 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Indiana saw a record-breaking 27,600 new jobs announced over the last year, according to the Indiana Economic Development Corp., and Elkhart County was a big beneficiary with 2,700 of those jobs.

As reported by The Elkhart Truth, some of those jobs are already here and some will be phased in this year and next. A total of $120 million will be invested in real estate and equipment as part of those jobs announcements, said Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County.

The average wage in Elkhart County – home to the RV industry’s manufacturing hub – is about $18.01 an hour, and the local economic development corporation worked on projects paying from $12 an hour to $40 an hour in 2012, Heiden-Guss said. The average on the new jobs is about $20.41, she said.

To view the entire article click here.




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Vista Hiring Exemplifies Growth in Elkhart Co.

December 26, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The team effort is paying off.

The South Bend Tribune reported that’s the word from Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Indiana’s Elkhart County, after Vista Manufacturing Inc., a lighting manufacturer that services the RV industry, announced plans to expand its operations in Elkhart, creating up to 15 new jobs by 2015.

“It’s wonderful,” Heiden-Guss said. “Our team effort is actually paying off. Our focus has been on existing companies.”

For the last three years, under the direction of Dave Ogle, EDC business retention and expansion director, and Denise Hoke, office manager, the EDC has been visiting with Elkhart County companies and trying to provide value, Heiden-Guss said.

“We’ve been doing it for three years now on a concentrated basis and the benefits are actually becoming evident,” she said.

Vista Manufacturing, which manufactures lighting products, will invest $3 million over three years to build and equip a 34,000-square-foot facility at 53345 Columbia Drive in Elkhart, according to a release from the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

The company currently operates out of two buildings in Elkhart; the expansion will consolidate Vista’s current manufacturing and distribution facilities into one building, which will be operational by next year.

“Vista is the latest company to choose Indiana as its centralized production location and that speaks volumes for the global attention our state’s business climate continues to receive,” said Dan Hasler, secretary of commerce and chief executive officer of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. in the release.

To view the entire article click here.


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Elkhart Co.’s Unemployment High Despite Jobs

October 22, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Indiana’s Elkhart County has two problems that most people would expect to fix each other: Unemployment persists above 8%, while at the same time employers are having a harder and harder time filling open positions ranging from technical to basic production.

While there are many thoughts about the problem, there are no clear-cut answers so far, according to a report in the Elkhart Truth.

What’s the problem?

While Elkhart County’s unemployment rate has dropped drastically since the recession, it was still 8.4% in September, well above national and state averages.

Despite that, Mike Hoover, president of KIB Electronics in Elkhart, said it’s getting tougher to hire people. “It’s starting to tighten up a little bit. Up until now we’ve had a really good pool,” he said.

Bill Faubion, director of engineering at the company, said in conversations with their manufacturing director, “A year ago he could sometimes interview five or six people and hire two people. Now they interview 16 to 20 and hire two.”

To read the entire article click here.

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Study: Tourism Dollars Lift Elkhart Co. Economy

October 11, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

RVs, Amish food, the fair, Notre Dame games and quilt gardens helped bring in visitors spending $273 million with an impact of more than $400 million to Indiana’s Elkhart County last year, according to a study released Oct. 9 by the Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

According to a report by The Elkhart Truth, the study by Certec Inc. showed travel and tourism brought in $401.6 million, up $23 million over the previous study, which looked at 2009.

That figure includes the $273.1 million in direct expenditures plus the so-called “ripple effect” of spending by local people employed because of those tourism dollars.

“This growth in visitor spending is significant when you consider Elkhart County was in a deep economic recession in 2009,” said Diana Lawson, executive director of the convention and visitors bureau.

To read the entire article click here.


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Elkhart County RV Open House is Ready to Roll

September 17, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

RV dealers enjoy activities inside the entertainment tent at the Forest River Inc. display at last year's Open House

Casino nights, hog roasts, live bands, catered meals, golf and new products will accompany acres upon acres upon acres of RVs greeting thousands of dealers at the ever-growing Elkhart County RV Open House Week this week in northern Indiana.

As reported by the Elkhart Truth, RVs will line County Road 6 on Elkhart’s northeast side, but the events will spread beyond that, to Elkhart’s south side, Nappanee, Middlebury and Shipshewana.

Last year an estimated crowd of more than 3,000 dealers attended the informal string of events in Elkhart County, and the biggest exhibitors, Forest River and Thor, expect the crowd to be even larger this year. Forest River has 75 more dealers registered this year, meaning about 500 more registered attendees, and they were still getting last-minute additions Friday, according to a company spokeswoman.

The displays will be larger, with new models coming from nearly everyone, at least one new RV company joining in, and a new RV factory highlighted.

To read the entire article click here.

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Former Monaco Worker Recovering From Loss

September 10, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The following is a story from a series of four articles in the Elkhart (Ind.) Truth examining the plight of displaced workers since the recession took hold in the northern Indiana manufacturing hub. To view the entire article – a profile of former Monaco Coach worker Ed Neufeldt – and to read the other stories in the series click here.

When he learned four years ago that he’d soon lose his job, it shook Ed Neufeldt’s world.

After all, he had spent 32 years — more than half his life at the time — at the recreational vehicle maker, Monaco Coach Corp. Moreover, the company, a giant in the field, was hardly a fly-by-night operation.

“I was so surprised,” recalled Neufeldt. “We were one of the biggest RV companies and I had thought we would never close the doors.”

Neufeldt, who lives in Wakarusa, was hardly alone. About 1,400 Monaco workers in all were laid off in 2008, among many others in the all-important RV sector here who also got pink slips as industry sales plummeted on the down economy.

Perhaps he would’ve just remained a faceless statistic, one of many here rattled by the economy. But Neufeldt somehow caught the attention of the White House — he put a face on the economic woes faced by many — and ended up introducing President Barack Obama when he visited Elkhart County on Feb. 9, 2009. Unemployment that year spiked to 18% in Elkhart County, about as bad as anywhere in the country, and the president came to discuss his economic stimulus plan, speaking at Concord High School.

To view the entire article click here.

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Report: Is Obama’s Tie to Elkhart an Obstacle?

September 6, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Barack Obama in one of his four trips to Elkhart County

The following article from U.K-based The Guardian examines the slow recovery in Indiana’s Elkhart County and the area’s significance in President Barack Obama’s bid to secure a second term. To read the entire article click here.

For the past three years Ed Neufeldt has been wearing the same green rubber bracelets stamped “Jobs for America”. He plans to take them off when unemployment in his home town of Elkhart, Indiana, falls below 8%. That day appears, finally, to be approaching – albeit achingly slowly. “The whole United States is not doing that good,” Neufeldt says. “But here we’re better off than we were three years ago.”

Few towns hold as much history for Barack Obama’s presidency as Elkhart. This was the city where he fought to establish himself as the candidate of hope and change, first in a bruising encounter with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination and then for the presidency. On his road to victory, Obama visited here four times in 15 months, and in February 2009 he chose Elkhart for his first trip outside Washington since his inauguration.

Neufeldt, then an unemployed recreational vehicle worker, was thrust into the national spotlight when he was chosen to introduce the newly inaugurated president of the United States at a local rally. “I am hoping and praying that president Obama will put the people of Elkhart County back to work. The stakes are high,” Neufeldt said then.

“I promised you back then if I was elected, I would do everything I could to help this community recover, and that’s why I’m back here today,” said Obama as he pushed the American Recovery Act, an $800bn stimulus plan he hoped would get America back to work.

Back then unemployment in the area was 18%. Obama charmed the locals, playing basketball with children in the streets and dipping into local diners to the shock and delight of proprietors and patrons alike. And he made big promises.

Four years on, Elkhart has gone from a symbol of Obama’s message of hope to a perfect example of the biggest hurdle the president faces in his bid for re-election: the gap between empirical measures that show economic recovery, and the pain people continue to feel. That is why Obama will have one clear goal when he delivers his acceptance speech to the Democratic national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina on Thursday night: spelling out a compelling economic case for giving him four more years.

“Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Ronald Reagan famously asked voters in the 1980 campaign. It is the question that looms over the 2012 presidential election, and one which has dogged the Obama campaign this week as they have struggled to come up with a convincing answer.

To read the entire article click here.

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