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Indiana Rep. Donnelly Honors RVIA’s LaBella

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Gary LaBella

Gary LaBella

The following is a transcript of a speech delivered by U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., to the House of Representatives paying tribute to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) former vice president and chief marketing officer Gary LaBella. Donnelly, whose district encompasses part of RV industry hub Elkhart County, worked closely with LaBella on several important industry issues over the years.

Mr. Speaker, today I pay tribute to an outstanding American citizen who has made significant contributions to northern Indiana’s economy through his work on behalf of the recreational vehicle industry, Gary LaBella.

For more than three decades, Mr. LaBella was instrumental in enhancing the recreational vehicle industry’s image, contributing to the RVIA and the industry’s success. The efforts he led in the marketing of RVs has helped unify this industry and transformed the way consumers think about RVs in this country, now and for the future.

Known for his creativity, Mr. LaBella launched an aggressive industry-wide initiative gaining acclaim throughout the travel and recreation communities. Under his direction, RVIA and industry partners launched the Go RVing national advertising program in the mid 1990s, which is often referred to as one of the most successful programs in the industry’s history.

In 2010, Mr. LaBella organized a celebration for the RV Centennial, culminating with a widely attended June party on the grounds of the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Ind. Elkhart is often referred to as the heart of the RV community and the RV Centennial Celebration focused on saluting the workers who made the industry great.

RV Business, an industry trade journal, saluted Mr. LaBella in 2010 as one of the industry’s 100 most influential executives of all time. Mr. LaBella received a similar honor in 2005, the year he was inducted into the RV Hall of Fame.

At a celebration of his career on December 1, 2010, he noted there were “two overriding emotions—pride in what we all accomplished together to elevate this industry’s image, and happiness that I leave RVIA with only friends.” Today I rise on behalf of the citizens of Indiana’s Second District, to salute his character, his personal achievements and his contributions to the RV industry.

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Industry Friend Donnelley Seeking Senate Seat

May 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Rep. Joe Donnelly (left) addressing RV industry leaders at RVIA's Advocacy Day event in 2008.

Rep. Joe Donnelly (left) addressing RV industry leaders at RVIA's Advocacy Day event in 2008.

U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., whose district encompasses a portion of northern Indiana and who has championed the RV industry, is seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate.

An official announcement that he is running for the spot currently held by Republican Richard Lugar  is expected today (May 9), but his campaign website already has a video outlining his reasons for seeking the Senate seat.

His Facebook page also states Donnelly is currently running for U.S. Senate.

That page also includes the following statement:

“I believe Indiana needs a Senator whose priorities are, day-in and day-out: jobs, the economy, and standing up for working- and middle-class families. That’s why I’m running for U.S. Senate.”

Donnelly is the only Democrat to enter the race at this point.

Lugar is facing a challenge in the Republican Primary from State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

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Rep. Donnelly Eyes Manufacturing at Summit

March 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Rep. Joe Donnelly

Rep. Joe Donnelly

U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., will host “Playing to Win: Indiana’s Future as America’s Manufacturing Leader,” a summit discussing the Hoosier manufacturing tradition and how we can continue to lead in this field.

The event will be held March 7 in Indianapolis.

Donnelly will host experts in the manufacturing sector from across the state of Indiana, including leaders from the automotive industry, trade representatives, business professors, and other manufacturing professionals who will gather to share ideas and best practices for out-working and out-innovating the competition.

The first panel, “Racing toward Tomorrow: A Sector-Specific Profile of the Automotive Industry,” will address the current status of the automotive industry in Indiana and what the future holds for this field. Confirmed panelists include representatives from the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, Chrysler, United Auto Workers, EnerDel, and Cummins.

The second panel, “Developing a Winning Game Plan: Policy Prescriptions for Continued Growth,” will cover the future of the manufacturing sector more broadly and panelists will cover topics such as trade imbalances, workforce training, and overall market trends. Confirmed panelists include representatives from the Alliance for American Manufacturing, Indiana University’s Indiana Business Research Center, Ivy Tech Community College, Brevini Wind USA, and OrthoWorx Indiana.

All panelists will focus on Indiana’s role as a current and future leader in this sector and there will be time for a question and answer session with the audience for each panel. This event is free and open to the public.

Check-in time is 8:15 a.m. with the first panel beginning at 8:45 a.m. and the summit ending no later than noon.

To attend, RSVP via e-mail: manufacturing.summit@mail.house.gov with name and organization.

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Donnelly Summit Eyes Indiana Manufacturing

February 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly

U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly

U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., is sponsoring an economic summit meeting March 7 in Indianapolis.

The meeting, titled “Playing to Win: Indiana’s Future as America’s Manufacturing,” will be held at the Ivy Tech Community College’s North Meridian Campus on the city’s north side. Registration begins at 8:15 a.m. and the event will conclude by noon.

The summit meeting is designed to discuss the Hoosier manufacturing tradition and how Hoosiers can innovate in order to continue to lead in this field.

“At this event, I will be hosting experts in the manufacturing sector from around the state of Indiana. Leaders from the automotive industry, trade representatives, business professors and other manufacturing professionals from across the sector who will gather to share ideas and best practices for out-working and out-innovating the competition,” he states in an invitation.

The first panel, titled “Racing Toward Tomorrow: A Sector-Specific Profile of the Automotive Industry,” will tackle the current status of the automotive industry in Indiana and how Hoosiers can continue to lead in this field.

The second panel, titled, “Developing a Winning Game Plan: Policy Prescriptions for Continued Growth,” will cover the future of the manufacturing sector more broadly and panelists will cover topics such as retooling, workforce training, trade imbalances and market trends.

All panelists will focus on Indiana’s role as a current and future leader in this sector and there will be time for a question and answer session with the audience for each panel.

To RSVP, please email manufacturing.summit@mail.house.gov with your name, company or school affiliation and contact information.

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‘Blue Dog’ Donnelly Sees ‘Gap Bridging’ Role

November 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

When Hoosier U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly begins his third term in the U.S. House in January, he’ll find himself in a new position: the minority.

Donnelly, D-2nd, entered Congress in 2006 on a Democratic wave that continued through 2008, but the party watched those gains mostly wash away Tuesday in midterm elections that favored Republicans, The South Bend Tribune reported.

And, even though Donnelly was able to hang on to a slim victory over Republican Jackie Walorski, he did so by garnering just 48% of the vote and perhaps benefiting from the third-party effect of Libertarian Mark Vogel, who captured 5% of the vote.

In his first two terms, Donnelly has become known as a friend and/or frequent advocate for RV industry legislative issues.

“It was a very tough climate,” Donnelly said during an interview Thursday, and the fact that neither major-party candidate won a majority of votes in Indiana’s 2nd Congressional District shows people here want less politics out of Washington.

“We’re in the middle of bringing our economy back, but we’re not all the way there yet. People want to make sure we get to the finish line on this,” he said.

“They’re tired of the bickering, they’re tired of the fighting. They want results,” he continued. “They want to see our country move forward, and they want us to do it as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans.”

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle will have to find some common ground during the next two years. According to preliminary results and projections, Republicans will hold a 243-192 majority in the House, and Democrats will have a 53-47 advantage in the Senate.

Blue Dogs, the coalition of moderate House Democrats that includes Donnelly, were kicked particularly hard Tuesday. Of the coalition’s 54 members, fewer than half were re-elected.

Donnelly said the Blue Dogs, though smaller in number, will have “a huge role” in bridging the gap between the two parties during the next Congress.

“We are the voice for common sense in Washington,” he said. “We’re the voice that says it shouldn’t be all the way to the left or all the way to the right but the one that wants to balance the budget, wants to do it in a common-sense way, wants to make sure we have a strong defense but a smart defense.

“We’re not there to play politics,” he said. “We’re there to try to fix the country.”

Donnelly said his top priority during his next term will continue to be job creation through measures that make credit available to businesses and minimize government regulations.

Congress also needs to work toward cutting the federal deficit, Donnelly said, adding that a balanced budget is a realistic goal.

“We’re getting to the other side of this economic situation,” he said. “The spending has to decrease. The revenues are going to come back. We have a very serious shot at having a balanced budget within a few years if we do the right things.”

And if the two parties can cooperate with each other.

“When Bill Clinton had a Republican majority in the House, he extended his hand, and they were able at that time to not only balance our budget but to have surpluses,” Donnelly said. “There’s no reason that can’t happen right now if the Republican majority wants that to happen.”

Donnelly has already made it clear that he doesn’t want House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., leading House Democrats during the next Congress.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, will likely be the next speaker of the House, and Pelosi has declared herself a candidate for the minority leader position.

Donnelly issued a statement Friday after Pelosi’s announcement, saying he won’t vote for her to be minority leader. “I strongly believe we need a change in leadership to reflect the desires of the millions of people who cast votes in this recent election,” he said.

Although most attention last week was on the next Congress, the current group of lawmakers still has a lot to do during its lame-duck session.

Members of Congress will return to work Nov. 15 with a stack of tax and budget issues to settle before the end of the year.

They need to pass a budget for the full 2011 fiscal year that began Oct. 1 and spending bills to keep the federal government running.

They also need to decide the fate of the lower tax rates enacted during George W. Bush’s presidency that are set to expire Dec. 31.

Donnelly said he would like to see the Bush tax cuts extended permanently for all Americans who earn less than $250,000 per year. For those in the higher income bracket, which includes about 2% of Americans, Donnelly said the lower rates should be extended for a year or two while the economy is still recovering. Then the lower rates would expire for that top income bracket, he said, but they could be reinstated after the federal government has a balanced budget.

Donnelly said he sees no reason why the lame-duck Congress shouldn’t finish some important work during the next couple of months.

“That’s what we’re there for,” he said. “I’m willing to work right up until Christmas Day, take Christmas Day off as a religious holiday and get right back to work the next day. We have an obligation to the American people.”

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Donnelly & DeFazio Retain Congressional Seats

November 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Democrat Congressmen Joe Donnelly and Peter DeFazio held onto their seats on Tuesday (Nov. 2), despite a conservative wave that wrestled control of the U.S. House of Representatives away from the Democrats.

Donnelly, whose 2nd District in Northern Indiana encompasses much of the RV manufacturing hub of Elkhart County, edged out Republican Jackie Walorski by approximately 2,500 votes, while DeFazio, whose Oregon district includes the RV hub of Lane County, had an easier time, beating Art Robinson, 53.5% to 44.6%, according to late-night returns reported by the Eugene Register-Guard.

Meanwhile, Republican Marlin Stutzman easily captured Indiana’s Third Congressional seat, formerly held by Mark Suder, who resigned May 21 after admitting to having an extramarital affair with an office staffer. The 3rd District also includes part of Elkhart County.

Incomplete returns showed the GOP picked up at least 60 House seats — the biggest party turnover in more than 70 years — and led for four more, far in excess of what was needed for a majority. About two dozen races remained too close to call, the Associated Press reported .

On their night of triumph, Republicans also gained at least six Senate seats, and Tea Party favorites Rand Paul in Kentucky, Mike Lee in Utah and Marco Rubio in Florida were among their winners. The GOP now owns 46 seats in the Senate with three races — in Colorado, Washington and Alaska — yet undecided. Under the radar, the changes in the legislatures of key states will impact future congressional elections through the redistricting process.

Donnelly garnered about 48% of the roughly 190,000 votes cast in his district, while Walorski ended up with 47% of the votes. Libertarian Mark Vogel attracted nearly 9,500 votes — more than three times the margin of Donnelly’s victory — leaving Walorski and her Republican supporters to wonder what might have been if the third-party candidate hadn’t entered the race, the South Bend Tribune reported.

Lane County voters helped DeFazio repulse Robinson’s dogged bid for the seat, with 62%  backing the incumbent. Late Tuesday, of the roughly 123,000 votes DeFazio had received, more than half — 65,400 — came from Lane County. DeFazio, first elected to Congress in 1986, faced his toughest challenge ever.

Indiana’s 2nd District race drew national attention this year as a symbol of the political narrative of these mid-term elections.

Republicans nationwide have worked in their campaigns to capitalize on frustration with the economy and skepticism of new health care legislation as well as President Barack Obama’s low approval rating, which was 48% as of today, according to Rasmussen Reports.

Walorski followed that template, framing the race as a referendum not just on Donnelly but on the leadership of Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Donnelly, who beat Republican Rep. Chris Chocola during the Democratic wave of 2006 and was re-elected with two-thirds of the vote in 2008, supported most of the Democrats’ big-ticket items during the past two years — the economic stimulus package, the plan to rescue Chrysler and General Motors, and health care and financial reform. He voted with Pelosi approximately 88% of the time, according to campaign ads.

He defended those votes on the campaign trail, but he also stressed his independence by highlighting the times when he has opposed fellow party members on climate change, gun rights and immigration.

“I think the people of this district realize I don’t worry about party politics,” he said after his speech. “I just try to do what’s right for our country and our district.”

With the election behind him, Donnelly said today that it’s time to get back to work.

“We have very serious challenges facing our country,” he said. “We have to get our deficit in order. We have to have more jobs in our community, which we work on every single day, and we have to make sure our servicemen and women who are protecting our country overseas have everything they need.”

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RV Industry Rebound Point of Hoosier Debate

October 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

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).

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‘RV Capital’ Looks Inside Itself for Recovery

October 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Ed Neufeldt introduces President Obama during his visit to Elkhart, Ind in February 2009.

Ed Neufeldt introduces President Obama during his visit to Elkhart, Ind in February 2009.

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.”

Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore (right) chats with Mike Huckabee during Huckabee's visit to Elkhart in the spring of 2009.

Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore (right) chats with Mike Huckabee during Huckabee's visit to Elkhart in the spring of 2009.

“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.”

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Rep. Donnelly to Debate Walorski Oct. 27

September 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

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.

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Molino Tells FRVTA to Expect ‘Good Year in 2010′

September 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

frvta-logoThere are a lot of positive signs out there in the marketplace right now, Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) President Mike Molino told attendees Saturday (Sept. 12) during the general session of the 29th Annual Florida RV Trade Association (FRVTA) Convention — including plant openings in Elkhart, a drop in the once-burgeoning level of distressed U.S. RV inventories and positive late season occupancy reports from many campgrounds.

But it wasn’t really news to any of the 175 individuals in attendance at FRVTA’s Sept. 11-13 meetings at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in Bonita Springs that the industry continues to face a difficult time.

“It’s tough out there right now,” said Molino. “The most impressive thing I’ve seen is those who are here today and the fact that when we budgeted for the dealer attendance at our convention, which is coming up Oct. 6 in Las Vegas, we budgeted what we thought was a reasonable number. And the dealers have already exceeded that in their registrations.”

Molino, moreover, mirrored general industry sentiment in saying that he looks forward to a better business atmosphere next year. “We’re going to have a good year in 2010,” he said. “It may not be a great year, but it’s certainly going to be a good year, and its certainly going to be better than 2009. So, let’s all look forward to that.”

In remarks preceding those of Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) Vice President Gary LaBella’s, Molino said a recent survey of RVDA’s membership revealed that retailers aligned with the national dealer association expressed three main areas of concern:

  • Perhaps the most serious among RVDA’s members is the continuing scarcity of credit. No matter what RVDA tries to do at the national level in concert with a variety of other national associations in this and other allied fields — including RVIA — to try to lobby for legislation that would help dealers and the industry, it simply hasn’t resulted in the hoped for result of an easing in financing. “We worked on things called TARP, TALF and the SBA prgram — three major programs to help get financing for consumers and for dealer floorplans,” said Molino. “Nothing’s been successful on the implementation, and we’re still trying to find out why.”
  • “Under-resourced” manufacturers, some of whom are new on the scene and are rolling out “dazzling” new products with low price points but aren’t in a position to provide an adequate “logistical chain” for repair parts and general warranty. Molino, as a result, warned dealers to “be careful who you deal with.”
  • The very survival of key industry components, including the dealer association itself, which, like RVIA, has been dipping into its reserves to sustain itself. “We have been spending money we’ve put away to spend for a rainy day over the last couple of years, and, boy, if it isn’t raining now, I’d hate to see when it is. So, we are spending some of that money. But we are in good financial condition.”

“Believe it or not, as weird as it may seem, the government we have in place right now is pro-RV,” he added. “It could be a lot worse. It could be like the Carter administration where RVs were portrayed as the enemy. We don’t have that now, and that’s good. And for that we have to thank the great PR effort on the part of RVIA and Mr. (Gary) LaBella here.”

Molino also credited the ongoing efforts of U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, the northern Indiana congressman who has been a “major player” in consistently stepping up and supporting the industry throughout the “Great Recession” in its efforts to secure financing alternatives.

“But it hasn’t worked yet,” he said. “and we’re still trying to figure out why, and there are people in government trying to figure out why. If you guys see that it’s working, please tell us because we’re looking for signs of that. But right now, the banks aren’t lending.”

Molino said there are indeed signs of increasing credit availability.

“But it’s not as good as it was before (the credit crunch,” he said.

“And until it gets better, the industry’s recovery is going to be slow. So, you’ve got to talk it up to your congressmen and senators and bankers. Try to find out what the problem is. You know, the government is making their money available — and insuring the money – and yet we can’t get it out there to the consumer and to the dealer.”

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