Today’s Video #1 profiles Elkhart, Ind., located in the hub of the RV industry.
Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson announced today (June 21) Dometic Corp. will relocate its Americas headquarters operation from Elkhart, Ind., to Louisville, Ky., according to a release from the Governor’s office posted to the WHAS11.com website.
Dometic, a leading U.S. manufacturer of marine, RV and medical refrigeration products, climate control systems, awnings, sanitation systems and other accessory products, plans to locate its new Louisville corporate office — which will house executive leadership, mid-level and key support teams — to serve both the North and South American markets.
“Kentucky is fast becoming the top choice location for many corporate headquarter operations and the relocation of Dometic’s Americas corporate office is yet another success to celebrate,” said Gov. Beshear. “The creation of nearly 100 new high-paying jobs and an investment of more than $4.1 million will provide a significant economic boost to the region. It is the very reason why it is so important for state and local governments to partner with the private sector to bring these opportunities to fruition.”
The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority preliminarily approved Dometic for tax incentives up to $3 million through the Kentucky Business Investment program. The incentive can be earned over a 10-year period through corporate income tax credits and wage assessments.
“The Dometic Group board of directors is pleased to announce Louisville as our new Dometic Americas headquarters location,” said Doug Whyte, company president, in the release. “Our leadership team is excited about the opportunity to commence our business operations in Louisville as soon as possible.”
The city of Elkhart, Ind., expects to spend $40,000 to promote an RV show scheduled for Aug. 13-15 on the city’s Civic Plaza that is expected to draw 8,000 people.
According to a news release from the city, a total of $80,000 will be spent to promote the show, formerly known as the Midwest RV Super Show, which was canceled last year because of economic conditions.
Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore said the city he leads with a population of 52,000 has been drafting a plan with the Indiana Manufactured Housing Association/Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (IMHA/RVIC) to host the show in downtown Elkhart.
“It is right that we show our support for our mobile home, RV and manufactured housing industry,” Moore said in the release. ”In the year of the 100th anniversary of providing recreational vehicles to the world it is fitting that we host this show in the birthplace of the industry.”
RVIC will devise a strategic marketing and communications plan that will include television and radio commercials, along with print and online advertising.
”The desire to purchase an RV never went away,” Moore said. ”Now that the economy is moving forward again, credit markets have loosened, fuel prices have somewhat stabilized, it is creating the perfect atmosphere for RV buyers to come to our city and see the best the industry has to offer.”
Moore will send a request to the Elkhart Common Council to support the event by appropriating $40,000 from the Greater Elkhart Fund. RVIC will partner with the city by providing an additional $40,000.
Elkhart, Ind., Mayor Dick Moore said the city isn’t running out of the recession – but it is walking out of it, during his annual “State of the City Address” Monday night (March 15).
For example, more than 20% of the city’s work force was out of work a year ago, noted WNDU-TV in its report on the speech. Now that rate has fallen to 17%.
In his last “State of the City Address” – back in 2009 — Moore said he was “personally inviting business and industry across the country to come and take a look at us, we must be sure that when they get here, they see something they like.”
Businesses must have seen something they liked. Recently Elkhart County was ranked No.1 nationwide for new investment for a county its size.
On Monday night, Mayor Moore’s comments were mostly positive.
“Th!nk North America selected Elkhart to build the next generation of electric cars,” said Moore.
“We are beginning to add more jobs than we are losing,” he said during another part of his speech.
Moore credits some of the improvement to President Obama, who put Elkhart front and center in the national spotlight. Media coverage followed. The city has received more than $40 million in federal economic stimulus money.
“A stampede of national news media reporters from literally across the globe,” said Moore in his speech.
More changes have happened in the last year, not all of them positive signs. RV shipments are up 116%, but foreclosures are up 1% over last year and the city’s labor force has dropped by more than 1,500 people.
Meanwhile, Republican council member David Henke says he’s worried about jobs for the people of Elkhart.
“I believe it is all about jobs, we can spend dollars and buy all the new equipment, trucks, cars, vehicles of every kind, but what we’re actually doing, as this administration expands municipal jobs, is increasing operational cost,” said Henke.
Indiana’s economic recovery is beginning to take hold as the RV industry shows new signs of a rebound, judging by activity at this past weekend’s Indianapolis RV Show.
Most recreational vehicles sold in the U.S. come from northern Indiana and RVs from modest to massive are finally selling again, WTHR, an Indianapolis TV station’s Eyewitness News, reports. (See video)
|“The first weekend, the first two days of the show, we sold more than our entire show last year,” said RV dealer Ken Eckstein at the Indianapolis RV Show.
Those in the RV industry say sales began rebounding months ago. Banks are making more loans, consumer confidence is up and prices are down.
“I have products out here in 2010 models that I am paying the same dollars (for) as I was for 2006 and 2007 models,” Eckstein said.
With four children, Courtney Weaver decided the family can afford a small camper.
“(We can) take just as many vacations as my kids are accustomed to, but my expenses are down,” Weaver said.
The recession has the industry on an ugly detour. During the past three years, RV sales plummeted 60%. Manufacturers have closed and thousands of workers lost their jobs — many of them in northern Indiana.
In Elkhart and surrounding counties, where 60% of the nation’s RVs were built, unemployment is still in excess of 14%. But the outlook is improving.
“Manufacturers are hiring people back to work in Elkhart County and around the state. Retail-wise, people have been ordering,” said Mark Bowersox of the Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council.
It may not feel like it for those who are out of work or deep in debt, but Elkhart, Ind., the nation’s RV headquarters, is one of the 79 U.S. metro areas that was economically “in recovery” in August, according to the Adversity Index, a gauge of economic activity produced by Moody’s Economy.com for msnbc.com.
The index, which is based on government data on unemployment, housing and industrial production, had previously rated the city as “in recession” for 32 consecutive months, dating to December 2006., according to msnbc.com
The positive signal for Elkhart lends support to pronouncements by local officials that business activity has been picking up in recent months. But it also comes with warnings that the recovery – if it has in fact begun – will be neither quick nor smooth.
Still, word of the uptick was warmly received by Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County, who said it jibes with what she’s been seeing.
“Based on what I’ve seen from both existing companies and prospective new companies, that appears to be the case,” she told msnbc.com.
Heiden-Guss said that RV makers, which have recently been hiring back some laid-off workers, are expected to see sales rebound in the coming year, citing an EDC forecast calling for a 20%. And over the past two months, EDC staff have identified as many as nine local businesses interested in expanding operations. The group also continues to see “extremely heavy interest” from manufacturers of a variety of non-RV-related products who currently do not have operations in the area, she said.
But despite such positives, economist Andrew Gledhill of Moody’s Economy.com warned that Elkhart is by no means out of the recessionary woods.
“Elkhart definitely remains in a quandary, and the economy may never fully recover to what it once was,” he said. “In fact, in our long-term employment forecast, we never have Elkhart reaching its pre-recession peak. … Elkhart is in bad shape and will be for the foreseeable future.”
And Grant Black, an economics professor at Indiana University at South Bend, said that a one-month surge in the Adversity Index doesn’t necessarily mean that the recession is in fact in retreat.
“It’s going to give you a good ballpark of what’s going on,” he said of the measure, “but it may not tell you where you are right at the moment. In other words, it’s not going to be the best instrument for saying we’ve bottomed out and turned the corner.”
Black said recent data show Elkhart County has several areas of continuing concern. Chief among them, he said, is that while the unemployment rate has been steadily declining since spring, so too have employment numbers. The labor force in the county now stands at roughly 94,000, down more than 6,800 since the fourth quarter of 2007, he said.
And 12,000 households in the county were receiving food stamps in July, up 11% from January, he noted.
Figures like that keep County Commissioner Mike Yoder from taking too much satisfaction from the recent surge of business activity and interest that he’s seen. He’s worried that many recently rehired RV workers will soon be laid off again as manufacturers pare back during what are the traditionally slow winter months.
“I’m really concerned that it’s going to be a really rough winter for a pretty good segment of our community,” he said. “We can all celebrate next summer when everyone’s employed again.”
Unlucky in so many ways in this recession, the Elkhart, Ind., area is fortunate in being able to rely on a continued flow of Pentagon money to build Humvees at AM General’s plant in nearby Mishawaka, 10 minutes down the road from Elkhart.
Workers at the Mishawaka facility, which employs more than 1,500 workers, know they have it good – especially compared to their friends and family members who have lost jobs at recreational vehicle plants nearby, according to msnbc.com, which is doing an extended study of the Elkhart area economy .
Guadalupe Gonzalez, an Elkhart native and Iraq war veteran who rode in Humvees during his two tours of duty, said his job at AM General feels relatively secure.
“I feel pretty stable working here,” he said. “Obama’s been keeping the military contracts.”
Still, the question of what vehicle Defense Secretary Robert Gates will pick to replace the Humvee looms over workers at the plant. AM General, in partnership with General Dynamics, is one of three teams competing for the contract to build the Humvee’s successor – the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle. The winner is expected to be announced in 2011 or 2012.
Humvee-making and other defense manufacturing have held up pretty well despite the recession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of defense-related manufacturing jobs declined by only 4% from March 2008 to March 2009, compared to a 10% decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs overall.
Gonzalez’s immediate family knows about that decline firsthand. His two sisters, his mother and his in-laws all worked at RV plants, the area’s major industry. All have been laid off.
“They’re having to extend their unemployment benefits,” he said. “I feel I have a good future here. With the war going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military’s going to need these vehicles.”
Congress is set to approve nearly $1 billion for purchases of new Humvees and to refit Humvees worn down by heavy use. The Mishawaka plant helps lift the hard-hit local economy, contributing $200 million in goods and services.
Several smaller firms in Elkhart such as Elkhart Brass, Transhield and Acousticom also count on Defense Department contracts.
At a plant in Elkhart, 50 workers at Acousticom make headsets for Apache and Blackhawk helicopter pilots. “We do nothing overseas or in Mexico – all of our assembly work is done right here,” said Acousticom executive Doug Cochran. The firm has annual revenues of about $2.5 million, 80%of which come from direct sales to the Defense Department.
Editor’s Note: MSNBC.com is conducting a year-long study of Elkhart, Ind. This 2,300-word story, which appeared in The Elkhart Truth, is the latest installment in a series of stories from that project.
In the same way that people might speculate about a couple that could be heading for divorce, business leaders in Elkhart, Ind., sometimes talked about what could happen if the recreational vehicle industry took a serious turn for the worse.
They’d seen it happen before in the early 1970s with the energy crisis and in other recessions since. But this was back a few years ago, when business was booming, and such talk seemed more theoretical than practical, as you might discuss the need to get a new roof, eventually.
“Yeah, there may be a desire to implement change, or diversify,” said Brian Gildea, economic development director for the city of Elkhart. “But when it’s not broken, the impetus to change is not there.”
Now the so-called “RV Capital of the World” is seeing a scenario that even the most pessimistic didn’t think would come to pass.
A season of high gas prices, a deep and lasting recession, a drop in home and investment values and a severe shortage of credit have conspired to decimate the RV industry, which officials say once accounted for as many as one in four jobs here.
The unemployment rate in Elkhart County hit 18.8% as of March, up from just 5.8% a year earlier. That was the largest jobless rate increase of any metropolitan area in the country.
Many local companies, including RV makers and their vast network of small, independent suppliers, have either cut back or gone out of business entirely, leaving the community with millions of square feet worth of vacant manufacturing buildings and thousands of unemployed workers.
‘Diversification is easy to talk about …’
The hard fall for Elkhart’s economy shows the dangers of depending too heavily on one industry for economic health, but also the difficulties of diversifying away from the main engine of a community’s economic activity. As Elkhart struggles to recover, residents are seeing firsthand the monumental task of clawing back from such a massive economic hit at a time when virtually every city in the nation is also suffering from the recession.
“Diversification is easy to talk about, but it’s not easy to bring about,” said Bill Johnson, who several years ago led an effort called the Horizon Project that aimed, in part, to draw a more diverse group of businesses to Elkhart County.
Experts point to success stories such as Akron, Ohio, which was able to create a niche in the polymer industry when the rubber industry began to decline. But they also offer up cautionary tales such as Gary, Ind., which has struggled for decades since the heyday of the steel mills.
The hard truth, many say, is that making an economy less reliant on one major industry can take a decade or more. Ned Hill, dean of the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University, said success often depends on politicians and business leaders who can help a community grow while not fighting too hard against market forces.
“The No. 1 rule is: Don’t allow yourselves to be a victim. You don’t want to do what Youngstown did and what Philadelphia did and say, ‘It’s always come back, it’s going to come back one more time,'” Hill said.
Youngstown, Ohio, has taken years to recover from the decline in steel, while Hill faults Philadelphia-area politicians for spending too much time and money battling cutbacks at its Naval Shipyard, which once employed thousands.
‘They will come back’
Many in Elkhart insist that the RV industry will revive, citing the allure of the open road and desire to be in the outdoors that stokes long-term demand. But even the most optimistic concede this recession has been deeper and more troubling than past downturns. If the RV industry emerges, it may look different than it did during the boom times just a few years ago.
“We don’t have an industry that’s no longer viable,” said Gildea, the Elkhart economic development director. “They will come back. It’s just a question of at what level.”
That leaves Elkhart, along with countless other communities across the Midwest, struggling with the question of what other businesses they can attract to the area. The additional conundrum for Elkhart – and many other communities in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio – is that they have continued to rely mainly on manufacturing for their economic well-being rather than transitioning to more service-oriented work.
Manufacturing accounted for about half of the Elkhart area’s jobs during the boom times. With the recession, that figure has dropped to around 43%, according to state statistics, still well above the national average.
“There’s a lot of diversity in this county in the sense of manufacturing. But that’s the issue: manufacturing,” said Richard Lavers, CEO of Coachmen Industries Inc., an Elkhart company that recently shed its RV business to concentrate mainly on modular homes.
“Is that a good or a bad thing? You play to your strengths,” Lavers said. “Unfortunately, manufacturing is becoming rarer and rarer and rarer.”
Even those who have long touted the importance of technology to the region concede that it would be hard to attract high-tech, white-collar jobs. Many manufacturing workers here have been able to make a very good living without a college education or advanced training. The area’s location, on a major interstate near the middle of the country, combined with its vast landscape of low-slung manufacturing facilities, make it ideal for such work.
“I see Elkhart remaining a primary manufacturing economy for the foreseeable future,” said Jim Walsh, vice president of the North Central Indiana Business Assistance Center. “I think the kind of manufacturing is going to change, (but) we’ve always prided ourselves: We make stuff.”
Walsh – who regularly runs workshops helping manufacturing operations become more efficient – still hopes technology will play a role in the area’s recovery.
“We’re still building things like we were 50 years ago, and we’re not going to last,” he said.
Elkhart’s woes may be more extreme than others around the country, but they are not unique. John Stafford, director of the Community Research Institute at Indiana University-Purdue Fort Wayne, said he’s watching many communities struggle with whether they can leave their manufacturing roots to evolve into more of a service economy.
“Every one of us is looking to answer that question,” he said.
Other Midwestern cities including East Peoria, Ill., a manufacturing hub for struggling Caterpillar, and Flint, Mich., once a mecca for auto manufacturing, are wrestling with a similar plight.
Diversity faded over the years
While it’s easy to judge such cities in hindsight, it can be almost irrestible to hitch the civic wagon to a single industrial star in good times.
“The reality is that if you’ve got an industry that’s paying good wages and good returns, the best bet is to go start working for them,” said Hill, the Cleveland State professor.
It also hadn’t always been this way in Elkhart. When Angie Recchio was growing up here, she figured she’d have her choice of three industries for a career: pharmaceuticals, band instruments and the RV business.
But by the time Recchio had grown up, earned a college degree and returned to her hometown, her choices had narrowed. The pharmaceutical and band instrument companies that were once such a major presence had mostly been sold to larger companies, who in turn sent thousands of those white-collar and factory jobs elsewhere.
For her and her peers, it seemed like the options were to go into the RV industry or get a service job, perhaps at a car dealership or restaurant.
Recchio, 33, chose the RV industry. Now she works as a sales representative for Valley Screen Process Co., which makes decals, mostly for RVs. She believes the RV industry will revive but says the downturn has prompted her company to look more aggressively for other customers.
“Maybe it’s a wake-up call,” she said.
‘Way too deep in one industry’
Some in the community have been working for years to recruit new industries.
“There were a lot of people who lived here who said, ‘Hey, we’re getting way too deep in our one industry,'” said Tom Stark, a vice president at Lake City Bank in nearby Goshen.
In part to address that concern, county leaders formed an Economic Development Corp. in 2000. A few years later, the community began work on the Horizon Project, an ambitious effort to expand educational opportunities in the county, deal with infrastructure problems and grow the county’s economic base.
But they hit roadblocks.
Stark, a member of the EDC board, said many businesses were reluctant to come to Elkhart County because the bustling RV industry kept the unemployment rate extremely low, making it hard to find workers.
For the same reason, some in the RV industry were unhappy with diversification efforts, said John Letherman, president of the Elkhart County Council.
“You bring in more companies, that just makes the labor pool that much smaller,” Letherman said.
Johnson, who headed the Horizon Project after selling his own rubber business, also said some companies were looking for a more highly skilled workforce than Elkhart had to offer. But over the years, many of the other companies that had once employed engineers, chemists and other highly skilled workers had left town, and the RV industry does not generally require those types of advanced skills.
Some workers are heading back to the classroom now. About 600 former RV workers have enrolled in retraining programs through the area’s Ivy Tech Community College, where overall enrollment is up. But efforts to educate a workforce can take years.
“Retraining’s a wonderful thing, but it’s not going to happen overnight,” Johnson said.
Reasons for optimism?
Despite the difficulties, community leaders see reasons to be optimistic. People at the EDC and the city of Elkhart say they are fielding hundreds of calls from people inquiring about doing business in the county. That’s thanks in part to President Barack Obama, who drew national attention to Elkhart’s plight in his three appearances there.
Still, with the rest of the nation also in recession, it’s tough to say when, or if, that attention will translate into new business and jobs. The county also is facing stiff competition from other communities hungry for new industry.
Boosters say Elkhart has several competitive edges. Where once potential businesses fretted about not finding enough workers in Elkhart, now the county can point to a willing workforce that is accustomed to hard, physical labor in the RV factories, which often pay according to production.
And they say Elkhart has a long history of entrepreneurship, pointing to the many businesses that have sprung up in recent years to supply the RV business. The community, they say, is a resilient one.
“We’ve been in a hole, but we’re trying to look up and see out of it,” said Dorinda Heiden-Guss, head of the county’s EDC.
Elkhart officials say their community could be a hub for other business, such as storage and distribution facilities. And many are hoping that a recent decision to locate a major nanotechnology research facility in nearby South Bend eventually will bring work to Elkhart.
Robert Dunn, managing director of that facility, the Midwest Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery, said there is potential for work there to lead to manufacturing in Elkhart, but not for three to seven years.
Meanwhile, many small businesses that have supplied the RV industry also are seeking to diversify.
Promens’ Elkhart facility once did the bulk of its plastics processing for the RV industry. Now, the bulk of the work is for other industries. But Jack Welter, vice president of Roto North America, a division of Promens, said that is largely because the company closed two other factories elsewhere and shifted that work to the Elkhart facility.
“I don’t want to take too much credit on diversification,” he said.
When Kirk Veer started seeing business slip at American Stonecast Products, which supplies sinks to the RV industry, he tried to get retailers interested in his products. But Veer, who is president of the small company, said he quickly found he didn’t have enough of a product line to interest big stores.
Now, instead of pursuing business outside the RV industry, he’s hoping to stay afloat in part by adding lightweight countertops and tabletops to the roster of things he supplies to RV makers.
Many businesses interconnected
Another issue for communities tied primarily to one industry is that even other companies in town are often linked to the primary industry. Goshen Coach, a division of Thor Industries Inc. that makes small buses, is by some measures one of the bright spots in Elkhart’s struggling economy.
So far, the manufacturing facility has lost employees only through attrition, said Troy Snyder, Goshen Coach’s president. Executives hope federal stimulus money will help business, because local governments will have more money to buy vehicles.
But Goshen Coach relies on about 300 suppliers, including many in Elkhart County that also supply the RV industry. About a dozen of those suppliers have gone out of business because of the RV industry’s troubles, leaving the bus company to find new suppliers.
The company gets its chassis primarily from troubled U.S. carmakers GM and Ford. Because both of those companies are periodically shutting down their manufacturing lines to save money, Snyder said the company has been forced to keep more chassis on hand than it would like so it doesn’t get caught without the much-needed base for its buses.
On the plus side, many in the RV business say they are starting to feel hopeful that things won’t get worse. They talk of a good week here or there, and say the RV industry typically picks up in the spring and summer months.
“We think we’re at a point where we can ride it – we’ve hit bottom,” said Derald Bontrager, president and chief operating officer of the RV company Jayco Inc.
Editor’s Note: Paul Mason, economics editor for the BBC’s “Newsnight,” filed this blog from the U.S., updating his audience on the RV industry and President Obama’s economic stimulus package.
When Barack Obama came to Elkhart, Ind., in February it was Ed Neufeldt who introduced him. “We want to work,” Ed told Obama, who embraced him warmly.
The big, genial 62-year old used to build the motor caravans Americans call RVs, and Elkhart is the capital of the RV industry. But when credit dried up, the RV industry collapsed. Ed’s been out of work since September, after 32 years in the industry – 27 of them without a single day’s sickness, he tells me proudly.
Back then, in February, Obama’s main problem seemed to be the Congressional Republicans, who were blocking and tinkering with his fiscal stimulus bill. Now things seem more complicated. The fiscal stimulus is taking a long time to kick in, and the very principle of it is deeply resented by men like Ed, even though he will benefit from it in unemployment pay and health insurance payments.
100 days into the Obama presidency I found Ed and his former colleagues hard at work building timber-frame homes for homeless families. It’s a church-run project – they work for nothing. What they share with Obama, these men, is a deep religious faith. On almost everything else their attitudes reveal that this is not really Obama country.
“We want them to get out of the way and let us work,” one tells me. Them being the government. “We don’t want to be construction workers: what are we going to do? Be the man that holds the sign saying stop-go? We’re not trained for anything else!”
To these men – as for many Republican politicians – spending taxpayers’ money to get out of a recession seems wrong on principle. In Indiana the Republican governor has at least taken it – others, Sarah Palin included, have refused the money. But if it’s to be spent at all they would have preferred it as tax cuts or simple cash giveaways. What the Elkhart men want is for Americans to start buying RVs again, not for the government to put them to work on building roads.
Of course that is only half the story of America; as we found out in the election it is, precisely, just under half. The other half of America bought the argument that state intervention, an end to “trickle-down” economics could put the country right. But even in this demographic there is trouble.
A few days after I visited Elkhart I found myself being pinned against the walls at a trendy book publishing party in Brooklyn by student activists who think Obama is just a sell out. Virtually everybody politically active on the liberal wing of the Democrats is involved in a perpetual one-note riff on the theme of Obama’s timidity; his “capture” by Clinton-era machine politicians and Wall Street. “The Good the Bad and Geithner” was Arianna Huffington’s memorable headline on her balance sheet of the first 100 days.
Among mainstream political journalists there is a certain insouciance about all this: if politics is just elections and polls, then Obama is flying high. His approval rating is good, he’s just recruited a Republican senator, taking him close to the tipping point where he can get his laws through Congress with ease. But I can’t help recalling what happened with the TARP in September.
Paulson’s bank bailout plan enraged right wing, small town America – and that rage coincided with the rage of the liberal left. Both saw the bailout as wrong in principle, both pressured their representatives. The result was the final few weeks of the Bush administration found it trapped between left and right wing plebeian rage.
There is no rage right now – the tax tea parties were stunts organized by a Republican base layer whose top political leaders remain disoriented. But give it time. Ed and his colleages were mainly laid off last September. Six months unemployment, plus two Federally funded extensions, should take them to September 09. “That’s when the rubber meets the road,” says Ed. “People will lose their cars, their vehicles.”
Meanwhile we have not yet seen the full shape of Geithner’s bank bailout. While in Britain the failing banks were sternly ordered to take state money, and the government took a massive stake (if not control), in the USA there is still something of a fandango going on between Geithner and Wall Street; the banks are determined not to be recapitalized by the state, not to give up a major stake and have lobbied hard to make sure the coming bailout deal is highly favorable to them.
Not a day goes by without the leader writers and senior op-ed people at the New York Times, HuffPo, Truthout etc denouncing this as treachery and pronouncing that it will fail. We’ll see: at my Brooklyn party there were also plenty of people prepared to believe that Obama is planning an unannounced coup against the banks that will leave Citigroup and Bank of America partially nationalized.
The nightmare for Obama is: what if the fiscal stimulus fails to deliver, while simultaneously enraging the small-town conservatives; meanwhile the bank bailout delivers only to the Wall Street elite, simultaneously enraging the urban left. And what if this coincides with Ed and his mates having their dole cut off, and my student radicals and their mates entering the jobs market to find there are no more jobs in Starbucks?
100 days is too soon to judge any presidency, certainly on the economic front. But America’s media and civil society is alive with “Plan B” discussions. Many Republican governors are quietly implementing a Plan B version of the stimulus, allocating money to projects that reflect their own political and economic philosophies. In the pages of the New York Times it’s more overt: from Krugman, Stiglitz and Robert Reich you have a daily dose of advice to Obama to cauterize the banking losses, spend the stimulus money faster and just generally to get on with it.
Caught between rising fuel costs and tight economic times, many avid RV devotees feel they can no longer enjoy their passion for camping and the open road. In his new crime novel, “Towed in a Hole,” Hollywood writer and director Lawrence Chance offers both RV enthusiasts and mystery-lovers alike a way to drive vicariously and in luxury with the savviest RV owner around-protagonist, detective and knight-errant of the American road, Raymond Cid, according to a news release.
The world of the RV aficionado is a unique and important part of Chance’s new mystery. As a gumshoe for the 21st century, Cid powers up his super-charged RV and hits the road with his Cockney ex-financier sidekick to find a vanished RV lawyer, confront deadly villains and even find romance.
As Cid battles the bad guys and courts a blonde bombshell deputy, he begins to uncover a conspiracy that goes beyond the case he is investigating, exposing corrupt forces that are willing to kill to keep their dark deeds secret. While Cid and his deluxe land yacht navigate America’s highways from his base outside Las Vegas, they travel by way of Missoula, Mont. to visit the RV manufacturing capitol of Elkhart, Ind., (where President Barack Obama recently highlighted the RV industry’s current economic issues).
With a nod to the first-person, hard-boiled private eye mysteries of the 1930s and ’40s and a wry, observational sense of humor, Chance works to revive the genre by setting it on 10 big wheels and in modern times. Chance wrote “Towed in a Hole” to entertainingly introduce the RV world to neophytes and reveal a fresh side to those already hooked.
“I wrote the book as a fun mystery, pure and simple, but the ‘therapeutic’ aspects for RV’ers in financially-imposed ‘withdrawal’ are very real. RV owners who’ve read the book are writing to me to thank me for giving them their RV ‘fix’ in print for a lot less than a tank full of diesel,” states Chance.
For more information or to request a free review copy, members of the press can contact the author’s representative at Dan@VictoryVillage.com. “Towed in a Hole” is available for sale online at Amazon.com in both print and Kindle versions, at BookSurge.com and through additional wholesale and retail channels worldwide.
Chance has written and directed books, plays, musicals, movies and network television sitcoms. He has written for both Hollywood and the food, wine and hospitality industries. Currently, he is working on a sequel to “Towed in a Hole” and is running a family publishing company, Chance Books.
Just six weeks after President Obama brought national attention to Elkhart, Ind., the beleaguered “RV Capital of the World” made prime time TV again over the weekend, this time courtesy of Fox TV talk show host Mike Huckabee.
But unlike Obama’s message, which dwelled on how bad things are, Huckabee tried to show the positive side of Elkhart and how the city of 52,000 residents is trying to dig itself out of a deep economic hole.
“But this is also a city that has been through tough times before and it’s been able to reinvent itself and find new ways to prosper,” he said. “How will it respond to this current economic challenge? White House officials say help is on the way and that people need to be patient. But, should they wait on Washington, or will they take charge of their own future and if so, how?
It was the first in a series of “Save Our Town” specials Fox is airing this spring.
Fittingly, the hour-long program was taped outside the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart under clear, sunny skies and in front of an appreciative crowd of some 700 people. The crowd was attentive, applauding on cue and generally supporting Huckabee’s mantra of limited government interference in the economy.
Huckabee, 53, who finished second to John McCain in the GOP presidential primary race last year, hammered home his belief that federal stimulus money will not fix anything without private sector ingenuity.
Huckabee said he was thrilled to bring his show to Elkhart, a place he knew as a youth because “every band instrument I ever saw was made in Elkhart, Ind.” He said he also has a deep appreciation for RVs, after he spent his 2002 gubernatorial campaign (“the best campaign I was ever involved in”) touring in a motorhome. “It was my first real understanding of why the entire RV thing is such an important part of American life. It’s truly a piece of Americana. No other country on earth is quite attuned to understanding this wanderlust that we have as Americans. But it’s also an incredible subculture, if you will, people getting to know each other in spirit and community and a lot of that happens because folks in this town have built those wonderful vehicles that have given Americans connections with each other and connections with their great land.”
He scored points early on with his audience, remarking, “The program today is in large part because we’ve heard so many people around the country coming to say they were ready for the funeral service of Elkhart. Can I tell you a little secret? When we got here, we found a strong pulse and we canceled the memorial service.” His encouraging words drew some of the loudest applause of the day.
The hour-long program featured Huckabee interviewing several local businessmen and government leaders. Pre-selected members of the audience, including several unemployed RV workers, asked questions of the various panels. “We’re not looking for a handout,” one unemployed questioner stated. “We’re looking for a hand up.”
One panel member, Rob Reid, owner of Great Lakes RV, one of just four RV dealers left in business in Elkhart, focused on the importance of banks freeing up credit so that the consumers can resume buying RVs. “Loosen your purse strings,” he told the nation’s bankers, as there are “lots of people with good credit” who want to buy RVs.
His co-panelist, Bill Burton, who oversees the South Bend-based 1st Source Bank operations in Elkhart, noted that his bank is doing its part, as it had 20 retail RV loans in process on Friday, the day before the show. His bank also is active in making loans to RV manufacturers and suppliers, he added, but has stayed out of dealer floorplanning because it is too labor-intensive (and costly) for small banks like his own.
(Reid told RVBusiness afterward that his dealership had sold eight RVs – a mix of fifth-wheels and travel trailers – in the past week and that by his reckoning, the industry has reached its bottom and is on the rebound.)
Another panelist, Doug Lantz, president of new start-up EverGreen RV, explained how his staff of 22 all rebounded from downsizing at other local RV companies to form the new company in the past two months and produce an “eco-friendly RV.” He praised the community’s entrepreneurial spirit and insisted that restoring credit is the key to the RV industry’s recovery. “I hate to keep beating that drum, but it’s the No. 1 issue right now,” said Lantz. “When we try to put dealers together with EverGreen, the one question has to be, what credit lines do you have? We love COD (cash on delivery) dealers!”
Lantz said RV shows have been well attended so far this year in the U.S. and Canada so “we know the demand is there.”
Other panel members included Elkhart Mayor Richard Moore (shown above at right shaking hands with Huckabee), a local electronics manufacturer, a Realtor, a band instrument firm executive and Rick Lavers, CEO of Coachmen Industries Inc., which exited the RV industry late last year.
Huckabee and his guests were upbeat, pointing out the community’s strengths: a strong work ethic; an excellent business climate; a workforce “that can outwork anyone on the planet,” one panelist said; good community infrastructure; clean air; and many industrial sites ready to house new businesses.
The idea to visit Elkhart came from Woody Fraser, the show’s executive producer, after Obama held a town hall meeting in Elkhart last month. As Obama was speaking, Fraser said he thought they should take the show on the road and visit towns facing tough economic challenges.
Elkhart was the obvious place to start, he said, and the show could counteract the negative publicity the city was dealing with. It wouldn’t sugarcoat the situation, but it would show that the city isn’t standing still, either.
Mayor Moore reviewed steps his administration has taken to jump-start the local economy, even going to Washington, D.C., the day after Obama was inaugurated to lobby for the city’s share of the stimulus money. With 19% unemployment, Elkhart should be on top of the list, he argued, and presented “shovel-ready” projects totaling $92 million. He also garnered applause when he observed that the money belongs to the people, not the government.
Huckabee arrived in Indiana on Friday and spent the day touring the community. He walked through the Hall of Fame exhibits (a snippet of which was shown during the show), and when he asked about local fishing (Huckabee is a bass fisherman), Lantz drove him to the edge of the St. Joseph River, which bisects the city.
Huckabee showed a genuine interest in the community over dinner with nine community leaders, including Lantz and Jayco Inc. CEO Wilbur Bontrager, that night at the Elcona Country Club.
“He was cognizant of ‘quality of life’ issues that people often glance over,” said Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County, which worked with the Fox staff to put together the show.
She and others said they didn’t discern an ulterior motive by Huckabee laying the groundwork for a 2012 presidential bid.
Nevertheless, Huckabee closed his commentary sharply critical of Obama and Congress. Obama needs a do-over, he said, and should fire Tim Geithner, his “incompetent and tax-evading” treasury secretary. The federal government should also suspend payroll taxes and freeze salaries and staff hirings of Congress and federal agencies, he added.
He made a pitch for the Fair Tax movement, which seeks to replace income tax with a retail tax, and he would eliminate the IRS.
“Elkhart will thrive again, not because of the federal government, but in spite of it,” Huckabee concluded. “Being here makes me want to buy an RV, get in it and see a lot more of America and a lot less of Washington.”
Huckabee, a bass guitarist, closed his show by joining with an impromptu combo dubbed “The Little Elkharts” with their rendition of “Brown Eyed Girl.” They performed a second number not shown on air.
The program was not free of little slip-ups. Huckabee consistently referred to the site as the “RV/MotorHome Hall of Fame” (the MH stands for Manufactured Housing) and an on-screen graphic grossly overstated that “280,000 workers” had been laid off from the RV industry.
But all in all, the show likely gave the community and the RV industry a boost. In the darkest days over the winter, Reid said, he kept telling his staff, “Let’s just get to April.” Well, April is almost here and he is already talking about moving into a larger location, the former Michiana RV lot elsewhere in the city.
Now noticeably buoyant, Reid said the Huckabee show “will be a huge positive impact on Elkhart” and the RV industry.
Boosters invited Huckabee back to the community in June when it hosts the nationally known Elkhart Jazz Festival. By then, they hope, there will be more good news to report about the “City With A Heart.”