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Indiana Honors Livin’ Lite Recreational Vehicles

August 25, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

 

Livin' Lite's Quick Silver trailer

Livin' Lite's Quick Silver trailer

Wakarusa, Ind.-based Livin’ Lite Recreational Vehicles was named to the second annual Indiana Economic Development Corp.’s list of “50 Companies to Watch.”

The recognition honors the state’s privately held companies that employ up to 150 employees and have between $750,000 and $100 million in annual revenue or working capital.

More than 500 Indiana companies were nominated for the award, according to the IEDC. The chosen businesses in the state include food manufacturers, software developers, financial service firms and makers of medical devices.

The honors are presented by the IEDC, its Small Business Development Center, Purdue University and the Edward Lowe Foundation.

The companies will be recognized Thursday at a dinner and ceremony in Indianapolis.

As reported by the South Bend Tribune Business Weekly, Livin’ Lite manufactures ultra lightweight, automotive campers and aluminum trailers and markets them in North America, Europe and Australia. The company has been in business for six years and has 20 employes, double the number of last year. Sales this year are up 200% from 2008 and on pace to do more than 250% the 2008 level.

In answer to the question, what sparked the formation of the business, owner Scott Tuttle replied, “The need for an affordable, lightweight, family camper that could sleep six and still be towed by small passenger cars. Our campers allow young families to go camping utilizing their current vehicle (they don’t have to purchase a truck or an SUV).”

As for the company’s biggest challenge or opportunity, he replied, “Our biggest opportunity has been the ability to produce such a lightweight, all-aluminum and composite camper, which is affordable and able to be pulled by the smallest automobiles on the market. Our challenge has been educating ‘traditionally minded’ RV dealers that there is a market for such campers. The retail demand is high. Our problem is we don’t have enough dealers yet.”

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Indiana to Help Fleetwood Create 300 Jobs by 2012

August 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels today (Aug. 19) joined executives from recreational vehicle manufacturer Fleetwood RV Inc. to celebrate the company’s plant reopening in Decatur.

Following the sale of Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.’s motorhome division and Goldshield Fiberglass assets to private-equity firm American Industrial Partners Capital Fund IV LP in July, the newly established Fleetwood RV has recalled over 600 associates and plans to create an additional 300 jobs at its Decatur headquarters by 2012, according to Inside Indiana Business.

Under the company’s new ownership, Fleetwood RV is consolidating its California and Pennsylvania manufacturing operations to Decatur. Plans call for $7.4 million in new investment toward building improvements, machinery and equipment and retooling. In addition, the company will relocate $8 million in equipment from its out-of-state operations.

This is the latest of several recent business consolidations into Indiana, including Dometic, a manufacturer of recreational vehicle accessories, which is consolidating operations from Sweden and Mexico to Indiana and expanding its facilities in Elkhart and LaGrange counties.

“Indiana is determined to make opportunity from hard times. We’re reaching out to companies like Fleetwood and saying, if you are consolidating, do it in Indiana. Jobs have been coming to Indiana from everywhere,” said Daniels.

Fleetwood RV is currently hiring manufacturing personnel and will continue to make significant staffing additions over the next three years.

“The decision to establish our company headquarters in Decatur was two-fold,” said John Draheim, president of Fleetwood RV. “First and most importantly, was the high-caliber workforce in the area, and the second was the cooperation from the state and city to develop a plan that would be best for the company, the local community and the RV industry as a whole.”

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. offered Fleetwood RV up to $9 million in performance-based tax credits and up to $100,000 in training grants based on the company’s job creation plans. The Decatur City Council approved additional property tax abatement at the request of the Adams County Economic Development Corp.

“Have no doubt – as mayor, you don’t sleep at night when worrying about people needing jobs but this is a giant leap for us on the way to recovery. We are grateful to Fleetwood RV,” said Decatur Mayor John Schultz.

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Hoosier Governor Praises Dometic for Expansion

August 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (left) and Dometic President Doug Whyte

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (left) and Dometic President Doug Whyte

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels today (Aug. 4) joined executives from Dometic LLC, an international manufacturer of recreational vehicle accessories, and praised the company’s plans to expand its manufacturing operations at two northern Indiana plants, creating more than 350 combined jobs by 2012.

The company, which makes accessories ranging from air conditioners to sanitation systems for the RV market, will invest a combined $10 million to increase production capacity at its Elkhart and LaGrange manufacturing operations. That includes more than $6.8 million to move its refrigerator manufacturing operations from Sweden to a 150,000-square-foot facility in Elkhart, creating 241 new jobs, and $3 million to move production from a plant in Mexico, which was lost to a fire in April, to Dometic’s LaGrange facility, where it will increase manufacturing capacity of retractable RV awnings, creating 116 new jobs.

“We’ve never had a doubt. RVs will be back. Elkhart will be back, and will resume its place as a major center of economic strength for our state,” said Daniels.

The company currently employs 60 workers at its Elkhart operations and plans to begin hiring assembly, welding, maintenance and management associates immediately as the facility is prepared for production launch later in the fall.

“Our growth is a direct result of our product quality and the dedication of our associates. This new RV refrigerator factory in Elkhart allows us to serve over 70% of our customers located within a 50-mile radius,” said Doug Whyte, president of Dometic.

The company will sponsor a jobs fair early next month and plans to begin production by early November, Whyte said.

Daniels made a point that the two expansions were examples of Indiana insourcing jobs from other countries, and that the two Hoosier communities were in competition with cities in China and Mexico.

“Don’t tell me we can’t compete efficiently with the world,” Daniels said.

Elkhart’s (and Indiana’s) central location with excellent transportation connections make both ideal places to do business, Daniels added. He called Elkhart “a great part of Indiana to do business” and added that though the county fell fast and hard, “all the elements are there” for a strong recovery.

Daniels was cautious in predicting when the economy will turn around, however. He does not expect the economy to “roar back,” but he sees signs of an upturn.

Including today’s announcement, projects announced for Elkhart County so far this year are expected to create more than 2,000 jobs. That includes Electric Motors Corp. (EMC), a manufacturer of electric power drive systems for heavy trucks, which will partner with RV manufacturer Gulf Stream Coach Inc. to invest more than $80 million to establish manufacturing operations in nearby Wakarusa. The partnership holds the potential to create more than 1,600 new jobs.

EMC CEO Will Cashen was present for today’s press conference and drew praise from Daniels, who called his EMC plans “fantastic” news for the community. 

Dometic, which was founded in 1958 as a division of Electrolux, now holds operations in 10 countries and employs more than 4,200 associates. In addition to refrigerators, the company manufactures retractable awnings, climate control systems and sanitation systems for the RV, automobile, heavy truck and marine markets.

Whyte said Dometic has made 35 acquisitions in the past 37 years and continues to look for other businesses to acquire to add value to its business.

“We are pleased that Dometic has selected Elkhart as the site for the relocation of its Swedish production facility. This announcement and the subsequent creation of up to 241 net new jobs to the area could not have come at a better time,” said Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore.

“While the job losses that we as a community have experienced over the past 16 months have had a negative impact on our local economy, I am confident that better times lay ahead. We are a resilient community which has both faced and overcome adversity in the past. By partnering with the state, the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County and the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, we will leverage this success and will work diligently to bring additional positive economic development news to the community,” Moore said.

Moore said the Dometic announcement was an example of the “great news to tell” President Obama who is scheduled to visit nearby Wakarusa, Ind., on Wednesday and announce major economic assistance for the county.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. (IEDC) offered Dometic LLC up to $1.1 million in performance-based tax credits and up to $320,000 in training grants across the two projects based on the company’s job creation plans. The Elkhart City Council late Monday approved additional property tax abatement for the project at the request of the Elkhart County Economic Development Corp. The town of LaGrange will consider additional property tax abatement.

“Dometic has been a great partner in the LaGrange community and we’re excited that they have chosen our county as the appropriate place to grow their operations,” said Keith Gillenwater, executive director of the LaGrange County Economic Development Corp. “We look forward to working with Dometic as they grow.”

The IEDC has at least four other deals on the table for new business ventures coming to Elkhart County, David Behr, senior project manager for the IEDC’s North Central Region, told RVBusiness.

Dometic Group is a customer driven, world-leading provider of leisure products for the caravan, motorhome, automotive, truck and marine markets. Dometic supplies the industry and aftermarket with a complete range of air conditioners, refrigerators, awnings, cookers, sanitation systems, lighting, mobile power equipments, comfort – and safety solutions, windows, doors and other equipment.

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Midwest News Media Talking About RV Comeback

July 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Midwest news media looking at recent developments in the RV industry in Indiana are again finding something positive to talk about.

Following announcements that Fleetwood RV Inc. has begun to rehire workers for its motorized RV plant in Decatur, Ind., and that Dometic Corp. is planning to move  production of RV refridgerators from Sweden to Elkhart, creating 241 new jobs there, the print and broadcast media jumped on the good news.

The Indianapolis Star stated that “Plans by two RV companies to hire additional workers could breathe life back into the slumping Northern Indiana RV industry, hammered by low sales and thousands of layoffs.”

The Star quoted Kevin Broom, a spokesman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), stating, “What we’re hoping is that this is a sign of a turnaround.”

Indiana factories make about 70% of the RVs made in the U.S. More than half are made in Elkhart County.

Statewide, about 60,000 Hoosiers worked in the RV industry at its peak in 2006, when the industry generated more than $65 million in state tax payments.

The announcements were good news for workers in Elkhart County, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, and Decatur, about 20 miles south of Fort Wayne.

“I think our area has been hungry for jobs for a while,” said Kyle Hannon, vice president of public policy for the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce.

Dometic will receive a tax break as an incentive from Elkhart and the state of Indiana to invest in the area.

“I’m very optimistic about (Dometic’s) future and about the future of our area,” said Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore.

According to the RVIA, 25,000 jobs have been lost in the RV industry nationwide since its decline over the last pew years. But Broom says he has seen an uptick in hiring in the past few months

Fleetwood RV Inc. has already received 1,500 applications since posting the 650 openings last week. The company expects to fill the positions starting next week.

“This work force historically has been one of Fleetwood’s best work forces,” said Fleetwood’s John Draheim. “The support from the community has been very overwhelming.”

South Bend-based Fox 28 News said the Dometic announcement “brings with it hope that Michiana’s RV industry, once left for dead, has some life in it yet.”

The station quoted Hannon from the Elkhart chamber, saying, “You start to hear different things from the industry like we are busy. But this is the first time it’s more of an announcement that a supplier says yes, we are hiring.”

He said the fact that Elkhart has hundreds of qualified workers just waiting for a job is very attractive to companies in the industry.

“That’s the silver lining of the unfortunate cloud of layoffs. We do have a lot of skilled workers that are ready to go,” said Hannon.

While some are confident the industry is making a comeback, others aren’t so sure.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s not just bringing companies into Elkhart, you’ve got to have credit loosened up,” said Chris Huffer, who works in the RV industry. Huffer owns Midwest RV Connection and knows what it takes to run a business. He says nothing will happen until banks start lending again and the cost of gas keeps going down. However, he is hopeful.

“Do I think it will be back to where it was? Well, it’s a start, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Huffer.

The Fort Wayne News Sentinel, noting that the rebirth of Fleetwood in Decatur, quoted community leaders in Decatur who suggested even more jobs could be resurrected.

Larry Macklin, executive director of the Adams County Economic Development Corp., said he couldn’t say how many jobs would be filled eventually as a result of the purchase of Fleetwood.

“Those numbers you’re seeing don’t include Gold Shield, and Gold Shield was part of the spinoff, too,” Macklin said.

Gold Shield Fiberglass makes components for a wide range of companies, including heavy-truck makers, medical-device manufacturers and bus builders. But a mainstay for Gold Shield is molded RV parts.

Macklin said bringing more workers back to Fleetwood would help smaller suppliers in Adams County, too, such as cabinet-makers that outfit RV interiors and a wiring-harness manufacturer.

Macklin said the recession may actually help Fleetwood in the long run, because weaker RV builders may be thinned out of the market entirely.

“Fleetwood survived because it’s the best. It’s the Cadillac of RVs,” he said.

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and Indiana Economic Development Corp. helped persuade American Industrial Partners (AIP) to consolidate Fleetwood operations in Decatur, making Decatur the headquarters of the new company. He expects the state to announce more details of its incentives for AIP soon.

Decatur Mayor John Shultz said the Decatur City Council was scheduled to consider abatements Tuesday night to aid the reshaped Fleetwood, too. The abatements would be applied only to equipment valued at $14 million-$15 million, which is likely to be moved here as production is consolidated.

The Fleetwood plant drew most of its employees from a 35-mile radius in northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio, Macklin said. He said that despite the excitement of the return of Fleetwood jobs, people need to be patient.

“This isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a few weeks,” he said.

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Gulf Stream Partners with Hybrid Electric Firm

May 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

An Indiana RV-maker, teaming up with a California-based company, plans to make Elkhart County a hub for electric vehicle production, with the potential for more than 1,600 jobs by 2012.

Gov. Mitch Daniels and executives from Electric Motors Corp. and Nappanee, Ind.-based Gulf Stream Coach made the announcement about a partnership today (May 14) to manufacturer what it says is the first light-duty electric pickup truck, according to the Lafayette Journal and Courier.

Together, the companies plan to invest more than $80 million on building renovations, machinery and equipment to site manufacturing facilities in Wakarusa and Nappanee.

It’s welcome news in Indiana’s Elkhart-Goshen region – hard hit by unemployment due to fallout in the recreational vehicle industry, with a March rate of 18.8%, a 13 percentage-point increase over the past year. That was the fourth-highest jobless rate in the country.

“You can’t keep a great work force and a great business environment down for long,” Daniels said in a statement provided by the Indiana Economic Development Corp. “Every trip starts with a single step, but this is a huge step on the way back to the prosperity we’ve always associated with Elkhart County.”

The partner companies are seeking funding through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, which could expedite the job creation in Elkhart County, a news release says.

The Department of Energy’s program provides loans to automobile and parts manufacturers for the cost of re-equipping, expanding or establishing U.S. manufacturing facilities to produce advanced technology vehicles or qualified components.

EMC plans to purchase an existing building in Wakarusa and hire 450 workers to produce and assemble electric motors.

Gulf Stream Coach could increase its work force by up to 1,200 jobs, which would include recall of some displaced workers. The company will utilize one of its existing dormant plants in Nappanee for assembly operations.

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