With a major construction project at Jayco Inc.’s headquarters in Middlebury, Ind., nearing completion and perhaps 150 new jobs coming to the firm, things are looking good in the recreational vehicle industry.
According to a report by the Elkhart Truth, that was one of the messages from U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski and a top official at Jayco, which the lawmaker visited Monday, May 13.
“They seem very optimistic and, boy, if they are, I am,” said Walorski, a Republican from the Elkhart area. She was at Jayco for a tour of the firm’s motorhome division, one of several planned stops at Elkhart County RV companies, the main economic motor here.
Jayco COO Jim Jacobs said things may not be where they were in the sector in 2006 or 2007, before the Great Recession hit, pulling the rug out from under the RV industry. They’ve definitely improved, though, with an upswing in interest in RVs and positive signs from RV dealers and participants at RV trade shows.
“Certainly we’re miles ahead of where we were in 2008, 2009,” said Jacobs, speaking after Walorski’s Jayco stop.
To read the entire Elkhart Truth article click here.
The three candidates for Congress from Indiana’s 2nd U.S. House District split Wednesday night (Oct. 27) over whether the federal stimulus package helped or hurt the region’s economic recovery and on the need for campaign funding disclosure, the South Bend Tribune reported.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly argued that Elkhart County’s unemployment rate, which spiked to 18.9% in March 2009, dropped at least in part because of stimulus money. The county known for making recreational vehicles now has a 13% jobless rate. He said the stimulus aided other counties, cities and companies in the district as well.
“That bill also helped to create additional auto jobs and manufacturing jobs throughout our entire region. What we were able to see was that firefighters in Kokomo were able to go back to work, policemen in South Bend were able to go back to work because of those funds,” he said.
Republican state Rep. Jackie Walorski disagreed, arguing that Indiana’s efforts to balance its books and keep corporate taxes low created an environment that helped companies and the economy. She said Indiana would be doing even better if not for the stimulus bill and other programs that she said are putting a drag on the economy. She compared Indiana’s economy with a race car that had a governor on it limiting how fast it can go.
“We need a difference in Congress to get that race car on the road,” she said.
Libertarian Mark Vogel argued the stimulus package was a mistake, saying the money went to “corrupt bankers and politically well-connected corporations.” He said statistics he’s seen show that it cost from $100,000 to $400,000 to create one job under the stimulus package.
“That’s not the way to create jobs,” he said.
They also disagreed on whether groups that run attack ads should have to disclose who is funding them. The responses were to a question about whether the U.S. Supreme Court throwing out parts of a 63-year-old law prohibiting corporations and unions from paying to air ads for or against political candidates was good or bad for democracy.
Donnelly said Americans have the right to know who is spending money trying to get candidates elected, saying that some of the money could be coming from people and corporations from other countries.
“The people here in northern Indiana have a right to know whose money it is,” he said. “So I would support changing that so there is full disclosure.”
Walorski said she found the question interesting, saying Donnelly began running negative ads in late July, saying he was the first congressman to do so this election year.
“I think if we’re going to talk about the issue of expenditures, one of the things we have to ensure is that the rules are the same for corporations and unions, and there wouldn’t be exceptions for ones that wouldn’t be with the other,” she said.
Vogel said he believes it would be proper for the groups to disclose who is funding them, but said it shouldn’t be mandated.
“I don’t think they have to tell the federal government or anybody else,” Vogel said.
Outside groups have spent heavily in the district, which historically has been a swing district.
The atmosphere at the debate was a stark contrast to a debate in Rochester two nights earlier, when a standing-room crowd of more than 600 people disrupted the event several times. The debate Wednesday was held in the studio of public television station WNIT in South Bend with about 75 audience members who stayed quiet until applauding politely at the end.
The election is on Tuesday (Nov. 2).
The race between incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Republican challenger Jackie Walorski is more or less even, according to a leading source of political analysis, The South Bend Tribune reported.
The Cook Political Report upgraded Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District race to “tossup” in its latest evaluation Wednesday (Oct. 20).
Donnelly has been a supporter of the RV industry, which is a major employer in Elkhart County, part of which lies in Donnelly’s district.
Cook, a nonpartisan newsletter that analyzes campaigns for federal offices, had rated the 2nd District race as “leans Democratic” since July. Before that, the race was rated “likely Democratic.”
A poll released two weeks ago by WSBT-TV, South Bend, and WISH-TV, Indianapolis showed 48% of voters surveyed planned to vote for Donnelly or were leaning toward voting for him, while 39% of voters were planning to vote for Walorski or were leaning toward voting for her.
“Donnelly is still in better shape than many other Democrats in comparably GOP-leaning districts in the industrial Midwest,” Cook’s analysis reads, “but even internal Democratic polling shows him with a mid-single digit lead under 50%, suggesting GOP state Rep. Jackie Walorski has largely weathered Democrats’ attacks and remains in close contention.”
“Look to this race as an early bellwether on Election Night.”
Last week, The Chicago Tribune reported that campaign finance reports show Walorski brought in more than $538,000, while Donnelly raised $323,000 during the three-month period that ended Sept. 30.
The Republican state representative also had more cash on hand at the end of the quarter. She had nearly $516,000, while Donnelly had more than $456,000.
Donnelly spent more than Walorski during the quarter. The two-term congressman spent $856,000, while Walorski spent $332,665.
Republicans have targeted the race as they seek to regain control of the House.
For 20 months now, Ed Neufeldt has kept the photograph in his wallet as a reminder of a promise made but not yet kept.
The small, scuffed print shows Neufeldt standing next to Barack Obama on Feb. 9, 2009, the day the U.S. president came to this recession-battered slice of the American heartland and assured its anxious residents the economy was soon going to improve, PrimeMedia News reported.
“One of the first things he said to me was, `I’m going to get you back to work,’” recalls Neufeldt, a 64-year-old father of seven. “But I really don’t think he helped me get back to work at all.”
Neufeldt makes this statement more out of disappointment than anger.
Like many other longtime residents in this county of 200,000, located about two hours east of Chicago, Neufeldt had been counting on Obama’s $787-billion stimulus bill to jolt the U.S. economy into recovery.
Known as the “RV Capital of the World,” Elkhart became a symbol of the Great Recession when its signature industry was slammed by a brutal combination of economic factors in 2008 – $4-a-gallon gasoline that sapped demand for gas-guzzling motorhomes, a consumer-credit squeeze and a collapse in Americans’ discretionary income.
The local unemployment rate shot to 18.9% in early 2009 from under 5% in 2007, turning Elkhart from one of the most prosperous industrial areas in the country to one of its most desperate.
“It was dire,” says Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County.
Neufeldt was among the recession’s earliest victims, laid off after 32 years working on the assembly line at Monaco Coach Corp., a maker of high-end recreational vehicles.
He received six weeks in severance pay and then turned to unemployment benefits to support his family.
In all, 1,400 workers lost their job at Monaco – one of several companies to close its doors or slash workforces.
The economic carnage in Elkhart caught Obama’s attention even before he was president. He visited the county twice as a candidate while courting voters in Indiana, a traditionally conservative state that he carried in the 2008 election.
Obama has visited twice more since entering the Oval Office, first to plead for the stimulus shortly after taking office and then again in August 2009 to announce a $39-million grant for the production of electric delivery trucks in the county.
But almost two years after passage of the stimulus, the economic recovery remains uneven in Elkhart — with signs of hope tempered by ongoing struggle.
The county’s jobless rate has fallen amid a welcome upswing in the RV industry and the arrival of some “green” manufacturing jobs. Even with the modest surge in economic activity, unemployment stood at 13.4% in August.
“Consumption has been pretty weak coming out of this recession. Consumers and households have decided to hunker down, and I think they will remain hunkered down for a while,” says Bill Witte, an associate professor in economics at Indiana University Bloomington.
“That will have an impact on discretionary expenditures, which include things like great big RVs.”
In Nappanee, a town of 6,700 in southern Elkhart County, street signs advertise a food drive to aid residents struggling to make ends meet.
“I don’t think the recession is anywhere near being over,” says Larry Thompson, Nappanee’s Republican mayor.
“Even those who got their jobs back, they might be getting those jobs back at $10 less an hour than what they were making, and maybe their spouse, husband or wife didn’t get their jobs back at all,” says Thompson.
Debate over whether the stimulus worked — or is working fast enough — has dominated the political conversation here ahead of next month’s congressional elections.
Just two years after Obama won Indiana, Democrats are at risk on Nov. 2 of losing the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Evan Bayh.
According to a September poll by Rasmussen Reports, Republican Senate candidate Dan Coats is leading Democrat Brad Ellsworth by 16 points. In Indiana’s second congressional race — which includes part of Elkhart County — incumbent Democrat U.S. Joe Donnelly is in a close race against Jackie Walorski, a Tea Party favorite one local resident described as “Sarah Palin on steroids.”
“The stimulus is a hard sell to the guy that is unemployed,” acknowledges Democrat Dick Moore, mayor of the city of Elkhart.
“As people go back to work across the country, the first thing they are going to provide for is their needs. What we make here in Elkhart, Indiana, can be considered a want, not necessarily what you need. So we will lag a little bit.”
Still, Moore says the stimulus has provided a vital boost – launching infrastructure projects that are rejuvenating the city’s streets, schools, airport and municipal buildings.
He also credits Obama for raising Elkhart’s national profile – saying it has paid off by driving interest among entrepreneurs looking for a place to locate new businesses.
On a recent morning, the local newspaper reported a start-up recreational vehicle manufacturer was bringing 40 new jobs to Elkhart after receiving tax breaks from the local government.
Think, a Norwegian electric carmaker, has announced plans to begin North American production in 2011 in Elkhart, promising another 415 local jobs.
“We have been through a lot of these cyclical times with the RV industry. We have always survived,” says Moore.
Indeed, there have been other success stories.
Prime Time Manufacturing, a start-up company backed by investor Warren Buffett, has 125 employees and is producing three lines of recreational vehicles in facilities left vacant at the height of the recession.
Challenger Door, which supplies companies making RVs and transit buses, rose from the ashes of another failed firm. It has hired 120 workers in Nappanee.
“Three-quarters of the workers were actually from the old plant and out of work,” says Merlin Yoder, Challenger’s president.
Some local officials say new businesses are thriving despite the stimulus, not because of it. Other companies that sought stimulus funds are still waiting for the money to be released, says Heiden-Guss.
“This county, in particular, has gone around government in order to get things done. They are entrepreneurs,” she says.
Among some local businesspeople, there is grumbling about the administration’s decision to give $39 million in stimulus to Navistar, a large truck manufacturer that acquired Monaco Coach, the failed RV maker.
After Obama announced the money would be used for state-of-the-art “Made in America” electric trucks, it emerged that the first vehicles were largely assembled at a company factory in Coventry, England.
“It was a scam,” says Wilhelm Cashen, vice president of Livin’ Lite Recreational Vehicles LLC, a small local company that designs light camper trailers for Jeep.
“The government gave (Navistar) $40 million. They went to Europe and built the truck. They didn’t do anything here.”
Among critics of the stimulus, Neufeldt may be the most surprising. He gained national prominence after being asked to introduce Obama during his first presidential visit to Elkhart.
“I came away feeling he was really going to turn this country around,” Neufeldt says. He felt that way until about three months ago.
Still unable to find full-time work in the RV industry, Neufeldt now juggles three part-time jobs in the town of Wakarusa. He delivers bread to local stores, cleans the office at a local medical clinic and is helping Cashen with the launch of the company making Jeep trailers.
Neufeldt makes enough money to afford the $400-a-month premium to provide health insurance to his wife and two children who remain at home. But he can’t afford the extra $500 a month it would cost to obtain coverage for himself.
“It took me a year to get back to work. I didn’t get back in the RV industry. My first job, delivering bread, had nothing to do with the stimulus at all,” Neufeldt says, who recently attended a Tea Party rally headlined by anti-Obama broadcaster Glenn Beck.
“I think I just did it on my own.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, a Blue Dog Democrat who’s been a visible advocate for northern Indiana’s RV industry on a number of occasions, and Republican challenger state Rep. Jackie Walorski have agreed to a debate at a northern Indiana public television station.
The South Bend Tribune reported that the Republican and Democratic 2nd Congressional District candidates and Libertarian Party candidate Mark Vogel will debate Oct. 27 at WNIT-TV in South Bend.
The American Democracy Project of Indiana University South Bend is sponsoring the debate in cooperation with the student-led Political Science Club and the community-based League of Women Voters of the South Bend Area.