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Navistar Appoints Icahn Capital Exec to Board

December 12, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Navistar International Corp. announced Samuel J. Merksamer, managing director at Icahn Capital LP, has been appointed to the company’s board. According to a news release, he replaces Diane Gulyas, who retired after serving three years as a board member.

Merksamer’s appointment to the board and Gulyas’s retirement are effective Dec. 10, maintaining the total number of Navistar board members at 10, nine of whom are independent.

The appointment of Merksamer represents the third board member appointment pursuant to the agreement the company entered into with Icahn Partners and MHR Fund Management LLC. Merksamer will stand for election at the company’s 2013 annual shareholders meeting.

“We welcome Sam to the board and we look forward to his insights as we continue to execute on our plan to drive long-term profitability and deliver shareholder value,” said Lewis B. Campbell, Navistar’s chairman and CEO. “On behalf of the board, I would also like to thank Diane for her contributions and service to Navistar during her time as a director.”

Merksamer is a managing director at Icahn Capital LP, where he has served since 2008.

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Video 3: Navistar RV’s Towables Debut at Show

November 28, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

This video takes a look at the new towable products by Navistar.

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Navistar, Caterpillar Joint Venture in Phase II

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Caterpillar Inc. and Navistar International Corp. today (Sept. 29) announced the next phase of cooperation between the two companies to develop, manufacture, sell and support vocational and on-highway trucks for the North America market and the rest of the world.

Under the terms of this new relationship, NC(2) will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Navistar and through a new brand licensing agreement, both International and Caterpillar branded trucks will continue to be distributed through both International and Caterpillar dealers outside of the United States.

In June of 2008, the two companies announced plans to form an alliance for the on-highway truck business. This led to the creation of a 50/50 joint venture called NC(2) Global LLC.

“This next phase will move the relationship to a structure and business model that will be similar to the business relationship we have with Navistar for our North American vocational trucks,” said George Taylor, Director of Caterpillar’s Global On-Highway Truck Group. “As we have looked at the success of the Cat vocational truck launch in North America, we believe that a similar business model for commercial trucks for the rest of the world makes the most sense for our customers,” Taylor added.

 

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Navistar Donates Van for Alabama Victims

July 1, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Navistar Inc. continues to show its commitment to the communities it serves by donating a used step van valued at $20,000 to HERO (Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization, Inc.) in Hale County, Ala., according to a press release.

The vehicle will help assist the organization in its rebuilding efforts in the wake of the devastating tornadoes that swept through the state of Alabama, where Navistar has significant operations.

Alan Stegich, national service director for Navistar’s Workhorse custom products business unit, and Andrea Clay, Workhorse legal and consumer affairs manager, recently presented the keys to HERO Executive Director Pam Dorr.

“This donation is a small token of how Navistar and Workhorse are giving back to the areas where employees live and work,” said William Osborne, vice president, Custom Products, Navistar.  “We are committed to ensuring the community succeeds in its rebuilding efforts.”

“The tornadoes here were quite damaging for our small area,” said Dorr. “We were not sure how to rebuild with this kind of devastation, but it is clear with this donation that we can begin getting the process moving along.”

“When I shared with Pam what our intentions were, she was almost crying on the phone,” said Clay. “Pam said they have never had such a generous donation— they always just had to piece trucks together. This will make a huge difference in hauling supplies back and forth for rebuilding homes.”

The donation of the vehicle is in addition to the $50,000 Navistar provided to the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund (GERF), established by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to help Alabama residents with unmet recovery needs. Donations to this fund will be used to relieve suffering caused by the spring storms. The fund, which is administered by the United Ways of Alabama, will operate on an ongoing basis to help Alabama residents who have exhausted all other avenues of disaster relief, such as FEMA, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and any other disaster relief programs.

In addition, employees at Navistar’s Melrose Park engine plant secured generators to assist employees at Navistar’s Huntsville engine plant when they were without power.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Alabama whose lives have been impacted by the worst domestic disaster since Hurricane Katrina,” said Eric Tech, president, Navistar Engine Group. “We believe in being a good neighbor wherever we do business and we are proud to step up and help the community in a great time of need.”

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Navistar’s All-Electric Truck Joins GE EV Tour

May 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Navistar Inc.’s all-electric truck, eStar, is being featured in the GE EV Experience Tour, according to a press release.

The nationwide tour is educating different industry segments and stakeholders on the emergence of electric vehicles (EV) and the benefits they can provide to businesses, governments and communities. The eStar is among a variety of EV manufacturers showcased during the tour.

“The GE EV Experience Tour is the perfect venue for Navistar to showcase eStar and educate attendees on smart EV options for commercial needs,” said Mark Aubry, vice president sales and marketing, electric vehicles for Warrenville, Ill.-based Navistar. “Tour visitors will experience eStar’s eye catching design and driver friendly features like a 180 degree windshield and easy in and out vehicle access.”

Capable of carrying payloads up to two tons, the eStar medium-duty truck offers features such as a low center of gravity (the battery is between the frame rails, not mounted on top), walk-through cab and a cassette-type battery that allows ease of maintenance and is the perfect design for around-the-clock operation. With zero tailpipe emissions, each eStar truck can potentially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 10 tons annually. The eStar has a range of up to 100 miles per charge, and can be fully charged in six to eight hours.

Each daylong tour stop features presentations by GE and community leaders, workshops to help stakeholders with EV planning, deployment, and integration strategies, and test drives.

“The tour is an important way for us to engage EV stakeholders nationwide and have a serious dialogue about the economic and environmental advantages of EV deployment,” said Deb Frodl, chief strategy officer for GE Capital Fleet Services.

The tour began in March 2011 and is stopping in six U.S. cities: San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, New York and Washington, D.C.

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MSNBC.com Takes New Look at RV Capital

January 24, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: As President Barack Obama was preparing for Tuesday’s State of the Union address, msnbc.com returned to Elkhart, Ind., the northern Indiana city it profiled at the height of the recession and the community that Obama promised to help on his first trip outside Washington after his election. MSNBC’s mission: see how the soft national recovery is playing out on this economically ravaged landscape and find out what role federal stimulus spending played in the rebound. MSNBC’s story by Mike Brunker, project teams editor, follows.

The economy in the nation’s industrial heartland — as embodied by manufacturing-reliant “RV capital of the world” Elkhart, Ind., — is growing again, with factories calling back some workers who lost their jobs in droves at the height of the recession. But as is the case in many parts of the country, the recovery here is really two tales of one city: one told by those who are hiring or being rehired, and another by those who so far have been left behind.

What we found was in some ways encouraging: The slimmed-down recreational vehicle industry and boat builders, both mainstays of the local economy, have rehired some laid-off workers. New players, notably electric vehicle manufacturers Think and Navistar, and revitalized old-timers like musical instrument maker E.K. Blessing have set up shop in empty RV plants and are ramping up production.

(The pickup in manufacturing is not peculiar to Elkhart. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that nationally the U.S. manufacturing sector outperformed many forecasts by creating 136,000 jobs in 2010 — its first net gain since 1997. It quoted economists at HIS Global Insight and Moody’s Analytics as predicting that the sector will continue to see modest growth over the next couple years.)

‘The fear is gone’

The entrepreneurial spirit that has seen Elkhart through previous economic downturns is sending up some green shoots now, such as the area’s first commercial fish-farming operation.

“The fear is gone,” is how Amish Shah, president and CEO of the Elkhart-based supply-chain-management firm Kem Krest, describes the community’s new “let’s get back to business” mind-set.

But Elkhart and neighboring towns in Elkhart County have a long way to go to erase the scars from the worst economic downturn in nearly a century. Unemployment hit 13.3% in November, well below the high-water mark of 20.1% registered in March 2009. Still, joblessness remains substantially higher than the national average of 9.4%.

And while some manufacturers are hiring, others continue to shut down or lay off workers. Medtec Ambulance Corp., for example, recently announced it was closing its plant in Goshen, while audio equipment manufacturer Crown International said in December it would lay off an unspecified number of workers at its Elkhart plant.

The improvement in the unemployment rate is itself somewhat deceptive, said Bill Witte, professor emeritus of economics at Indiana University in Bloomington.

“A big reason why Elkhart looks good now is they were hit so hard,” he said. “There has been shrinkage in the labor force — people have either dropped out or moved away — and once you get to a low base (of employment) it doesn’t take a lot of improvement to look good.”

And the local housing market remains in a shambles, with distressed properties, either foreclosures or short sales, accounting for most residential sales over the past year, according to real estate agents. On the commercial side, the market for office and retail space continues to be weak, though a number of larger complexes have changed hands.

Situation dire for long-term jobless

For the long-term unemployed, many of whom have exhausted their jobless benefits, the situation is increasingly dire.

Dean Preheim-Bartel, executive director of the ecumenical nonprofit Church Community Services, said more than 2,000 individuals and families received groceries through its food pantry in December, even though it was closed for a week around the Christmas holiday.

“While there is evidence of some slight recovery in the local economy, on the ground where we work it’s not very evident yet,” he said. “We’re seeing record numbers of people in need of food or financial assistance.”

Interviews with shoppers, workers and passers-by on Main Street in Elkhart underscored the divergent views on the local economy, with a majority of those questioned saying they have seen little or no evidence of a recovery.

“If it’s there, it’s in hiding,” said Terry Reardon, an apprentice ironworker from Goshen who has worked only occasionally over the past two years.

But Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore, who was elected shortly before the recession walloped the town, said he has no doubts the city’s economy is on a path to recovery.

“While we have farther to go … we are getting out of this much faster than many experts thought we would,” he said.

The scattered economic bright spots in Elkhart County do challenge assumptions about how quickly and to what degree U.S. manufacturing would bounce back from the recession.

For starters, much of the rehiring has occurred in RV and boat-building businesses, both of which appeared dead in the water a year ago.

Economic stalwarts lead hiring

“Families need to relax and vacation together, and this is the most cost-effective way to do that,” said Matt Zimmerman, a general manager with Keystone RV Co. in Goshen, referring to the travel trailers and fifth-wheel trailers the firm makes. Keystone is operating at near capacity and has rehired 1,100 workers over the past 18 months, bringing its total work force to about 3,100, near its historic high, he said.

Rick Gasaway, chief sales and marketing officer for Elkhart’s Nautic Global Group, one of the nation’s largest boat builders, said his firm added about 10% to its work force in four northern Indiana plants last year, bringing the total to about 500 employees. He predicted similar growth in 2011 in response to increased demand and low inventories.

Kem Krest, another longtime Elkhart business that manages supply chains for numerous automakers, also has been a positive influence on the local economy through the recession. It managed to avoid layoffs despite the auto industry’s troubles and more recently started hiring as demand picked up. The company now employs about 100 workers at its warehouse, said Shah, the firm’s 36-year-old CEO and an Elkhart native.

While the old stalwarts have led the way in hiring, employers new to the area have generated the most buzz. The marquee names are two electric vehicle makers that set up shop in Elkhart County.

Think, the North American arm of a Norwegian electric car manufacturer, has so far hired just 27 employees to build its two-passenger vehicles in Elkhart.

Manufacture of the cars, which are initially being sold only as fleet vehicles, is currently taking place in Finland, with final assembly in Elkhart. But after the company moves into full production at the plant this summer, about 100 workers will be employed by year’s end and 400 by the end of 2013, said Think spokesman Brendan Prebo. The operation also will send positive ripples through the local and state economies as it begins relying more on local suppliers, he said.

That depends, however, on the company receiving a $25 million loan from the U.S. Energy Department under its Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program.

“In terms of moving on to Phase Two and increasing our production, the ATVM loan is really a key part of that business strategy for us,” Prebo said.

Navistar, in the early stages of producing electric delivery trucks in nearby Wakarusa, Ind., already has federal money in hand — $39 million DOE grant announced in August 2009, when Obama paid his most recent visit to Elkhart County.

The company has assembled 78 eStar trucks in a former Monaco Motorcoach facility after buying the bankrupt company’s assets in early 2009. The truck-building operation has so far created 38 production line jobs, many of them going to former Monaco employees, said Shane Terblanche, vice president and general manager for Navistar Electric Vehicles.

That number will grow as the company ramps up to produce what the company anticipates will be several thousand vehicles annually over the next several years. It, too, plans to rely more on local suppliers, with an ultimate goal of 75 percent of parts and equipment being made in the United States, he said.

Former ‘band instrument capital’

Another manufacturer generating some joyful noises in town is a combination of new and old blood.

Many employees of E.K. Blessing, a musical instrument manufacturer founded in Elkhart in 1906, feared for the livelihoods when the company was put up for sale in 2009 by Randy Johnson, the fourth-generation owner/operator of the firm, figuring the buyer would send their jobs overseas.

But the purchaser, Verne Q. Powell Flutes of Maynard, Mass., had no intention of uprooting one of the last three companies remaining from the days when Elkhart was known as the “band instrument capital of the world.”

Instead, Powell Flutes President Steven Wasser spent more than $2.6 million to move the Blessing operation out of its old cramped facility and into what was formerly a Damon Motor Coach plant. That will enable Blessing to expand its traditional lines of student and intermediate instruments to include a new universe of professional instruments.

Blessing will be competing with foreign manufacturers that can make instruments at roughly one-third the cost, but Wasser and his team are gambling that professional musicians will be willing to pay a premium for high-end craftsmanship and customization that will help subsidize production of the lower-end instruments.

“We will have to win on quality and, to a certain extent, on personal buying philosophy by emphasizing that we’re the only company committed to manufacturing our instruments entirely in the U.S.,” said Steve Rorie, Blessing’s vice president and general manager.

Sweet sounds on a factory floor

Offering a sonic taste of what the future will hold, Mike Smith, a professional saxophonist and educator, demonstrated Blessing’s new prototype saxophone on the factory floor. The company says it will be the only entirely U.S.-made sax on the market when production begins later this year.

On the other end of the spectrum in terms of investment, two childhood friends — John Metz and Kevin Boyer from Elkhart — have dipped their toes into aquaculture, apparently becoming the first commercial fish farmers in Elkhart County.

Their company, Northern Indiana Aquaproducts, is ensconced in a long-empty outbuilding in Goshen, where they have set up three 3,500-gallon water tanks to serve as pastures for their tilapia crop.

They invested roughly $60,000 of their own money to get the operation off the ground after they were unable to find a bank willing to lend to a start-up in an industry with no track record in this part of the state.

The pair purchased their first 5,000 tilapia fry, or fingerlings, in early January and expect to deliver their first fish to market in June. They, too, will be competing with foreign suppliers in Asia and South America, and are banking that consumers will be willing to “pay a little more for something that is produced locally and is fresh,” said Boyer, a former commercial pilot.

They see the tilapia as just the first step in building a broader “green” business that will use the nutrient-rich water from the tanks to grow hydroponic vegetables and dry fish waste for use either as compost or as fuel to create energy for the fish farming operation.

Part of the appeal was the fact that the business is unique in Elkhart County, said Metz, a 38-year-old military veteran who retired from the Army after being injured while serving in Iraq.

“I remember Elkhart as being so vibrant and varied when we were kids, but over the last 30 years it’s become more and more concentrated on RVs and modular housing,” he said. “We wanted to do something that adds to the diversity.”

Stimulus role debated

The role that federal stimulus spending has played in what is, even by the most optimistic accounts, a mild recovery in Elkhart remains a hot topic for debate.

Moore, Elkhart’s mayor and a vocal advocate for the stimulus spending, said it produced immediate results.

“I definitely think it was a shot in the arm at a time when we needed it,” he said, ticking off paving projects, lead remediation and major highway work as projects that put people back to work and benefited the community.

He said the long-term impacts are still being felt.

“This was never intended to be an Elkhart or state of Indiana stimulus act, it was for the United States of America,” he said. “When we did those projects, we ordered parts and supplies from all over the country. And because we needed parts from Iowa, there’s a guy there who now has a job making those parts we need. And that’s a guy who can go out and buy an RV because he’s working.”

But Kyle Hannon, a spokesman for the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, said many local business leaders and residents don’t feel that Elkhart got much bang from the stimulus, in large part because of how it was spent.

“When the president came and sold the stimulus money, he didn’t say this, but people had an impression going back to the Great Depression — visions of guys digging ditches,” he said. “So when they began announcing various projects, it didn’t help that the first project we got was the Elkhart Airport runway and then road repaving. Many people remain very critical because of the disconnect between what people were expecting and what happened.”

The final judgment on whether the stimulus was money well spent won’t be emerge until Elkhart has fully beaten back the recession, and that’s likely to take quite some time, said economist Witte, who helps prepare U.S. economic forecasts for the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University.

“Our forecast has been pretty consistent since late 2008 — a fairly deep recession that would bottom out sometime in 2009 and then unemployment coming down very slowly,” he said. “But our most recent forecasts have gotten just a little bit gloomier. We thought we might get a bounce of growth of 4% or 4.5%, but now we expect around 3% next year. We just don’t see the strength that it takes to really propel the economy.”

That will mean more waiting and suffering for those who have yet to benefit from the mild recovery that has so far taken place in Elkhart, said Shah, the Kem Krest executive.

“I think they’re waiting in the wings for something to happen,” he said. “And so far I think in their perspective it’s been simply talk, it’s been data, it’s been statistics, but it hasn’t resulted in anything that has bettered their lives.”

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Monaco/Alliance Coach Host LPGA Roadtrip

November 12, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

image001Before the LPGA Tour season concludes Dec. 2-5 with the LPGA Tour Championship at the Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando, a host of LPGA players, executives, partners and friends will travel in a Monaco RV to visit with fans and spread the word about the Tour’s exciting season and its Florida finale.

The LPGA Road Trip Driven by Monaco RV/Alliance Coach “kicks off” this weekend with a couple of football games: A visit to Gainesville on Saturday (Nov. 13) for a University of Florida SEC football showdown with former Gators golfer Sandra Gal, followed the next day by a trip to Tampa for an NFL Buccaneers game with LPGA player Karen Stupples, a rabid Bucs fan.

The Monaco RV Diplomat will weave around Florida over the next week and a half, wrapping up the Road Trip just prior to Thanksgiving on Nov. 23 with a “Feed the Hungry” visit to Caring Hands Ministry in Wildwood, Fla., home of Alliance Coach, where participants in the Road Trip will prepare special pre-Thanksgiving meals.

“We’re thrilled to partner once again with the LPGA and its players, who not only know how to entertain and engage their fans, but also open their hearts to the communities where they visit,” said Ryan Lee, Monaco RV director of marketing. “As Presenting Sponsor of the Navistar LPGA Classic, we’ve enjoyed great success with the tour and love the idea of partnering for a fun, interactive road trip.”

Added LPGA Tour Commissioner Mike Whan: “Monaco RV’s a great success story — a former small, specialty RV manufacturer that has grown into a thriving corporation producing annual revenue exceeding $1 billion — so we’re proud to work with them both at our annual Navistar tournament as well as the countdown to the LPGA Tour Championship.”

The LPGA Road Trip Driven by Monaco RV/Alliance Coach also will be supported by LPGA and LPGA Tour Championship partners including Pepsi, Blue Diamond Almonds, Choice Hotels and Florida’s Natural Brand.

Media and fans alike are encouraged to participate in the Road Trip, either in person or via the websites of the LPGA, Monaco RV and Alliance Coach, along with their affiliated Facebook pages, YouTube.com channels and Twitter feeds.

Besides the aforementioned football events with Sandra Gal and Karen Stupples, the Road Trip also will feature a number of other activities and appearances including:

  • Paula Creamer gets her first up-close view of the new Amway Center during an Orlando Magic game.
  • Laura Diaz, Julieta Granada and Commissioner Whan help raise funds for the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf at an EWGA (Executive Women’s Golf Association) pro-am event at the world-renowned TPC Stadium Course on Nov. 15 (www.EWGA.com).
  • Suzann Pettersen visits Grand Cypress Golf Club for a special media day on Nov. 17.
  • A visit to the World Golf of Fame & Museum in historic St. Augustine (www.WorldGolfHallofFame.org).
  • Yani Tseng talks about the Race for the Rolex Rankings No. 1 and Rolex Player of the Year at her Orlando home, formerly owned by Annika Sorenstam.
  • Sherri Steinhauer defends her title at the Legends Tour Open Championship at Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor Nov. 20-21.
  • Scheduled appearances by Florida-based LPGA players Na Yeon Choi, Song-Hee Kim, Christina Kim, Amy Yang, Meredith Duncan, Mindy Kim and more.
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Monaco RV Drew 85 Coaches to LPGA Event

October 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Owners of more than 85 coaches attended Monaco RV's inaugural "Alabama Getaway" rally during the recent LPGA event in Prattsville.

Owners of more than 85 coaches attended Monaco RV's inaugural "Alabama Getaway" rally during the recent LPGA event in Prattsville.

Monaco RV LLC hosted more than 85 coaches — representing all Monaco makes ands models — for the Coburg, Ore.-based manufacturer’s inaugural “Alabama Getaway” rally, Oct. 6-10 in Prattville, Ala., in conjunction with the Navistar LPGA Classic Presented by Monaco RV.

According to Mike Snell, senior vice president of sales and product development, the event — which also included a few non-Monaco RV brands — was a tremendous success.

“The city of Prattville was a first-class host,” said Snell. “This event showcased the best and brightest in women’s professional golf and they really put on a show for us.”

Rally attendees received free tournament tickets to enjoy the LPGA event, along with five nights dry-camping, food and drinks on select nights, games, activities and entertainment — all free of charge. Some of the LPGA tour pros were also accessible during the event to meet and answer questions.

Monaco RV teamed up with dealer partner Alliance Coach, Wildwood, Fla., to bring a number of units to display at the rally, including Monaco and Holiday Rambler motorized products and Holiday Rambler towable units.

“We were thrilled to have Alliance Coach be a part of this event with us and we appreciated all their efforts,” said Snell.

Navistar has committed to hosting the LPGA event for the next two years and Monaco RV executives said the company will stage a rally at the 2011 program, as well. “We were extremely encouraged and excited about the turnout for the tournament and rally,” Snell said, “and we can’t wait to do it again next year.”

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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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Monaco RV’s Hosting Open House Sept. 28-30

September 23, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Monaco RV LLC will hold a dealer product Open House Sept. 28-30, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at its Indiana facilities on 606 Nelson’s Parkway in Wakarusa,Ind.

On display will be motorhomes, travel trailers and fifth-wheels from each of Monaco RV’s three brands: Monaco, Holiday Rambler and R-Vision, according to a news release.

“With dealers in the area for RV events next week, we were receiving calls from dealers wanting to see our products and facility, so we decided to hold an open house,” said Mike Snell, senior vice president of sales and product development. “We will have numerous products on display along with our state-of-the-art production facility open for dealers to tour. We are extremely proud of our clean, modern facility, which houses the latest in manufacturing technology. Our manufacturing plants provide us with the capability to build the highest quality, best products on the market.”

“Along with our state-of-the-art facilities, with the backing of Navistar, we are able to bring cutting-edge truck industry technology to our products,” continued Snell. “We are the only RV company to achieve a fully integrated motorhome, with the chassis, engine and house coming from the same manufacturer. The new MaxxForce advanced EGR engines are being implemented into both our Monaco and Holiday Rambler products, to rave reviews from our dealers. Our gas line up has expanded as well, with the introduction of the new Holiday Rambler Aluma-Lite Class C and Vacationer.”

Snell continued, “In our R-Vision and Holiday Rambler towables, we continue to focus on the growth of these divisions by introducing new models, floorplans and innovations. The new R-Vision Onyx is a great example. This Euro-contemporary travel trailer is packed with high-end features, but still stays true to the R-Vision focus of lightweight design which ensures maximum towability. Our Holiday Rambler towable division is upgrading current models by adding more eye appeal, amenities and standard features. Both divisions have new products in the works and we will continue to further incorporate Navistar’s engineering and product development resources into these products.”

Concluded Snell, “With our open house, we will showcase the strengths of our company: our products, resources and employees. We’re excited for dealers to come see what the new Monaco RV – backed by Navistar – is all about and what it has to offer them.”

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