A northern Indiana county still reeling from the blow the recession inflicted on the recreational vehicle industry is taking small steps to recovery by exploring new markets while preserving economic tradition, the Associated Press reported.
A new venture that refurbishes aging Greyhound buses and plans for a full line of musical instruments at an existing business are fueling a slow rebirth in Elkhart County, which President Barack Obama once showcased as an example of the recession’s impact.
Officials here said that a full recovery in the county, which still has a 13.4% unemployment rate, will hinge on large projects like electric vehicle makers Navistar and Think. Efforts to diversify the area’s economic base are being welcomed with open arms, The Elkhart Truth reported.
“If we can put this all together, then we’re going to be back,” Nappanee Mayor Larry Thompson said. “But we’re a ways off. Some of those larger companies … they need to do what they’ve told us they’ll do, and that’s hire people and put them to work at a good wage.”
One of the smaller efforts is the new Nappanee Bus Refurbishment Center, which has 100 employees and plans to add 20 more in a month. Workers refurbish aging Greyhound buses, adding Wi-Fi, power plug-ins next to seats and extra leg room.
“It’s not true production,” vice president and general manager Lee Loper told The Truth newspaper. “It’s more a combination and a mesh of production and repair.”
Loper noted that a new motorcoach can cost $450,000, but refurbishing can be done for about a third of that price.
The center is a joint venture between ABC Companies and Greyhound. Loper said he expects the center to refurbish 250 buses over the next five years.
Another boost is coming from instrument maker Blessing, which has opened a new factory in Elkhart.
Owner Steven Wasser said the company wants to become the only U.S. manufacturer making saxophones. It is developing a prototype and plans to start production in the spring.
He said the saxophone will be built alongside other instruments in the new plant.
“This is a musical instrument factory,” said Wasser, who bought Blessing in 2009. “It is not a brass instrument factory. … We do not feel restricted to the traditional trumpet, trombone, marching brass. Part of our vision for the future is to make excellent wind instruments here.”
Wasser said Blessing is attracting more customers in part because of its commitment to making instruments domestically.
Even with the new infusion, economists caution that change won’t come overnight. Bill Witte, associate professor emeritus of economics at Indiana University in Bloomington, said it will take several years for the jobless rate to drop to pre-recession levels.
Wasser acknowledged the challenges ahead but said he remains optimistic.
“It’s a terrible economy out there and it’s going to take time to see the results, but I can see them.”