Indiana’s Elkhart-Goshen area ranked among the top in the country for Gross Domestic Product (GDP) gains in 2012.
“Maybe the strength of the number surprised me a little bit,” said David Daugherty, president of Goshen Chamber of Commerce . “The strength of the rebound could be somewhat of a surprise to those related in the RV industry. It has bounced back tremendously and it’s real nice to see.”
The Goshen News reported that the Bureau of Economic Analysis announced that the Elkhart-Goshen GDP grew by 11.4% in 2012. Of that rate, 8.5% of the growth was fueld by an increase in durable goods manufacturing.
When he hired in as the Chamber of Commerce president, Daughterty said he was told when the economy went down, the RV industry was the first to go.
“And it’s the first to recover when the economy goes up,” he said. “First in and first out.”
Daugherty said local RV manufacturers and suppliers have been rebounding since the recession of 2007.
“When the economy is good we are leading the parade and when that happens, everything else in Elkhart County responds accordingly,” Daughter said. “It’s more fun to lead the parade when it comes back. The continued growth should be good for the next couple of years.”
Kyle Hannon, president and CEO of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce said manufacturing is leading the local recovery.
“The manufacturing sector is bouncing back in Elkhart County,” he said. “We all knew it would happen. This report, and the report showing we lead the country in job growth, prove our point. And they show the strength and character of our economy.”
It’s another positive economic national statistic for Indiana’s Elkhart County.
As reported by the South Bend Tribune, in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) quarterly census of employment and wages, the Elkhart-Goshen area has the eighth-highest increase in average weekly wages between the fourth quarter of 2011 and the fourth quarter of 2012.
An article in 24/7 Wall St., citing stats from the BLS, said the one-year wage growth in the Elkhart-Goshen area was 9.1% for an average weekly wage of $782, an increase of $65 per week.
“With the actual wages of the jobs, this year has been exceptionally good news after some rocky times,” said Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County. “We are grateful primarily to the marine and recreational vehicle industries for being responsible for the increase in employment and the wage level.”
Kyle Hannon, president and CEO of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, put the victories in perspective.
The Elkhart area has led the nation in job growth for at least two years, Hannon said. Salaries naturally were going to increase with it.
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A delegation of Chinese businessmen and government officials want to visit Indiana’s Elkhart County this fall, and Elkhart County’s commissioners are interested in helping to make that happen.
The Goshen News reported that during a meeting of the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners Monday (July 8), the commissioners approved a request by Aaron Zou of Aaron, MacGregor & Associates, an Elkhart-based exporter of RVs to China, to have the board write a letter of invitation for the delegation. Zou hopes the letter will help expedite their entry into the country this September.
“There is a group of visitors in China, including government officials and businessmen, interested in coming to Elkhart to visit,” Zou told the board Monday. “The main reason is RV-related. RV’s are getting more and more popular in China, and they realize that Elkhart is the RV Capital of the World, so they expressed a desire to visit. It is their desire to have the County Commissioners send an invitation letter out to them so they can start the process of getting their passports and visas to enter the United States.”
According to County Commissioner Terry Rodino, such requests are fairly typical when involving business and government officials from other countries, as such letters of support can often mean the difference between a denial of entry and an approval.
“This is pretty much standard procedure to get them invited in,” Rodino said. “This just helps expedite it, coming from county officials, to help speed up their process with visas and what have you, for leaving China and coming to America.”
“The delegation from China has Chinese government officials, so the county invitation letter will be appropriate to start that process,” Zou said. “And there is a slight chance that their visas may be denied by the U.S. Consulate, so the County Commissioners invitation letter would be a stronger indorsement for their visit.”
According to a the Goshen News, Monday’s meeting is reportedly not the first between Rodino and Zou.
Back in March of this year, Rodino’s former business partners, Amit Shah and Tim Dugle, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in South Bend claiming Rodino used his position of authority to profit from a Chinese business deal. Rodino touched on the subject briefly during Monday’s meeting before introducing Zou’s request for a letter of invitation.
“Based upon some of the things that have happened over the last year or so about some comments about the Chinese,” Rodino said, “we just want to kind of make this as transparent as possible.”
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Elkhart County’s reputation as the epicenter of the recreational vehicle industry has drawn the attention of six Chinese government officials and business leaders who want to visit the northern Indiana area in September.
The Elkhart County Board of Commissioners signed a letter Monday (July 8) inviting the group from China to visit. Aaron Zou, a local businessman with Aaron MacGregor and Associates, has been in touch with the group and said they are particularly interested in the area’s RV production.
“RVs are getting more and more popular in China, and they realize Elkhart is the RV capital of the world, so they expressed a desire to visit,” said Zou, whose company exports RVs internationally.
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So Elkhart County, what do you do for an encore?
The Elkhart Truth reported that after seeing the local economy make headlines nationally three years ago in the midst of the Great Recession, the employment picture in the Indiana RV hotbed has rebounded in near-equal measure over the past two to three years with job growth figures that beat those of any community in the United States.
Statistics released last week by the U.S. Labor Department showed Elkhart County’s percentage of job growth was three times stronger than the national average and a half a percent better than the second closest community.
A year ago, when similar figures were released, showing strong job gain that were among the best in the nation, Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president of Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County, said she was reluctant to put too much credence in the report.
But the newest figures that show a 7.4% rise in job growth is an indication, Heiden-Guss said, that the local recovery has been “phenomenal.” Combined over the past two years, the county has added more than 10,600 jobs to the workforce, according to the labor department.
“The RV industry is booming and surpassing records and essentially put us back on the map,” Heiden-Guss said.
Local officials say the recovery is still a work in progress and that they’re working to make further strides to ensure that those inevitable cyclical bumps in the economic road are less jarring than in the past.
Much of that involves efforts to diversify the county’s industrial base.
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Many thought it would happen. Indiana’s Elkhart County ranked first in the nation in job growth in 2012, according to a report by WSBT, South Bend.
This was big news considering the county led the nation in job losses when the recession hit several years ago, and it didn’t take long for word to get out around.
“We have the kind of work force, we make things that we are going to bounce back, so it is certainly welcome news,” said Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce President Kyle Hannon.
The local RV industry had a hand in turning around those employment numbers.
Thor Industries Inc., parent to several high profile companies in Elkhart County, opted to bring its headquarters to the area.
“As a corporation, we have looked at Elkhart County, and we’ve decided to move our corporate offices from Ohio to Elkhart, and it’s because 70% of the production that we have is built right here in Elkhart County,” said Thor President and COO Bob Martin.
Early during the recession, Martin says the employment picture was not as bright. They had to pull back production and let people go.
“As the economy has come back, we’ve been very fortunate that we have been able to hire as many or more people back then we had prior to the recession,” Martin added.
Martin says he’s not surprised by the recent uptick in employment throughout Elkhart County whether in the RV trade, technology and business, big or small.
“We have been just happy to be a big part of it.”
Hannon added, “I think, quite frankly, we expected to be leading the nation in job recovery.”
Elkhart County’s job growth was more than three times the national average of around 2% last year.
There is another strong sign of an economic rebound in Elkhart County in Northern Indiana, hub of the RV industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks Elkhart County tops in the nation for job growth in 2012.
The bureau says employment in the area increased 7.4% from December 2011 to December 2012, compared to a national rate of 1.9%.
Within the boundaries of Elkhart County, manufacturing was the fastest driver of job growth, with manufacturing employment in Elkhart County gaining 5,479 jobs during 2012, an 11.6% growth rate in this segment vital to north-central Indiana.
Approximately 83% of the nation’s RVs built in 2012 came from Indiana, with the bulk of that total from Elkhart and adjacent LaGrange counties.