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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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Navistar Reports ‘Solid’ 2nd Quarter Results

June 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Navistar International Corp., Warrenville, Ill., reported solid second-quarter results as reflected by improvements in the performance of its core business as the company continues to navigate the difficult economic climate, according to a news release.

“Our expectations are t Her Secrets – Seduction Secrets For Irresistible Women o be profitable across the business cycle,” said Daniel C. Ustian, Navistar chairman, president and CEO. “The plans we have put in place for our core businesses are on track through the second quarter. We are confident that the foundation is in place to continue to support our profitability and grow our business.”

Even though the industry is at a nearly 50-year low, net income attributable to Navistar International Corp. for the second quarter ended April 30, 2010, was $30 million, equal to $0.42 of diluted earnings per share. As previously reported, earnings for its fiscal year ending Oct. 31, 2010, are expected to be in the range of $2.75 to $3.25 per diluted share. Revenues for the second quarter totaled $2.7 billion.

“We remain confident for the remainder of the year about our ability to deliver fiscal 2010 results in the previously reported range,” said Ustian. “The orders we have received for our 2010-compliant products ensure that the business is well positioned for the rest of the year.”

Navistar is the parent company of Monaco RV LLC, Coburg, Ore., a manufacturer of towable and motorized recreation vehicles.

The company said it is prepared for a successful launch of its MaxxForce Advanced EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) engines as it continues on its path to meet the latest emissions requirements. During the quarter, key regulatory certifications were obtained for 2010 MaxxForce 13 and MaxxForce DT Advanced EGR big bore diesel and mid-range diesel engines.

Other significant milestones achieved in the quarter included improvements in Navistar’s cost structure, which were achieved through reductions in material costs and rationalization of its North American plants to create cost efficiencies in its Class 8 heavy truck and school bus production lines. The company also completed a retail funding alliance with GE Capital Corp. and GE Capital Commercial, Inc. in which GE will become the preferred source of retail customer financing for equipment offered by the company and its dealers in the United States to help it grow sales of trucks and school buses.

During the quarter, the company also began shipping a limited number of International®MaxxPro Dash Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles that include the DXM independent suspension solution, which were part of an order Navistar received in January from the U.S. military.

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Navistar Introduces eStar All-Electric Truck

May 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Navistar logoAt one of the plants where workers learned about two years ago that they would be laid off at Monaco Coach Corp. in Warsaw, Ind., Navistar Inc. unveiled its new electric truck Thursday (May 13).

And that truck could soon be delivering a FedEx package to your door, according to the South Bend Tribune.

The Navistar eStar runs solely on electric power and can go 100 miles on one charge. It has no tailpipe and can reach 50 mph. Batteries can be replaced in about 20 minutes but take six to eight hours to recharge.

A total of 40 employees will be involved in the initial production in Wakarusa. The plant is expected to produce 400 vehicles this year and several thousand per year in coming years.

Navistar acquired the factory during its 2009 acqusition of some of bankrupt Monaco Coach assets, and Monaco brands now are produced by Navistar subsidiary Monaco RV LLC. 

Fresh off a congratulatory phone conversation with Vice President Joe Biden, Shane Terblanche, general manager and vice president of Navistar-Modec EV Alliance, beamed as he saluted his team.

The work that the operators have done getting the vehicles done, the work the engineers have done in preparing the vehicles for production, just absolutely tremendous stuff,” Terblanche said. “Many of you would recall an event we had back in August of last year where President Obama announced the $39.2 million grant. We have acted upon that with absolute diligence.

“Here we are today to launch our brand. We are going to talk about creating jobs. We are going to talk about transportation electrification. We are going to talk about partnerships.”

The government grant required a matching one by Navistar, which purchased Monaco assets out of bankruptcy.

The vehicles, which cost about $150,000 each, have no emissions, near zero noise pollution, a 36-foot turning radius and a payload of up to two tons.

Terblanche said the partnership demonstrates how the public and private sectors can work together to create jobs and “develop technologically advanced vehicles that are environmentally friendly.”

Terblanche said 700 employees would be added nationwide to the Navistar chain, including those working at suppliers to the truck.

“As we ramp up production, we will obviously be needing more operators on the production line,” he said. “I don’t know what those numbers are today.”

FedEx is the first company to purchase the trucks and has let drivers test drive them at stops along Route 66, en route to Los Angeles.

“It’s very smooth and very quiet,” Deborah Willig, of FedEx, said during an earlier teleconference. “Our team members love driving it.”

Besides Los Angeles, trucks are planned for delivery this year to dealers in Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Sacramento and possibly Indianapolis.

“This is what Elkhart County does,” said Phil Penn, president and CEO of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce. “We have been on our knees before. We have come back many times.

“We have been through a number of different morphs of industry.

“And here we are now, another opportunity for a new industry to start up and be the electric capital of the world for vehicles.

“If these vehicles take off, like I am convinced they will,” Penn said, “I think we have a great opportunity to add hundreds if not thousands of jobs down the road.”

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Elkhart Turns from RVs to Electric Vehicles

October 21, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

When asked what the biggest difference is at her job since the onset of the recession, bartender Amy Picuda half-jokes, “Well, the tips suck.”

Picuda, 23, works at Mr. G’s, a bar and restaurant in Osceola, in the heart of the economically devastated area around Elkhart County, Ind., according to the Detroit Free Press.

“I think it really started about a year and a half ago,” she said. “We’re lucky we have our regulars, though. I know a lot of places that have closed down.”

Welcome to northern Indiana.

While Elkhart County’s plight is not unique, especially in a country enduring the hangover of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, this region has been hit especially hard. It has consistently had one of the worst unemployment rates in the country over the past year.

Elkhart County’s economy was bound tightly to the recreational vehicle industry and in 2008, with the recession already underway and gas prices topping $4 a gallon, the bottom fell out.

Monaco Coach Corp, a leading RV manufacturer with a plant in nearby Wakarusa took the hardest blow. The company, which employed 116,000 people at its peak, had slumped over the years to a work force of just 12,000. This included the shuttering of the Wakarusa plant, which cost the jobs of 1,400 workers. (These numbers are gross inaccuracies; at its peak, Monaco Coach employed about 6,000 with the current number employed by Monaco RV LLC being about 800 companywide — rvbusiness.com editor)

Ed Neufeldt was one of those employees. After 32 years working on the factory line at the Wakarusa plant, My boss walked in, and he was all choked up. We figured there were big layoffs coming, but he just says, “We’re shutting down.”

At 62 with only a high school education, Neufeldt found himself out of a job and with few options.

“It was bad. It still is bad,” said Phil Damico. “You have to keep in mind, at one point 60% of this region was manufacturing, with 50% of that [being] the RV business.”

Damico is the director of business growth for the nearby St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce. He had a firsthand view of the collapse. Unemployment for Elkhart peaked at 18.9% in March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Damico notes that the remaining jobs are low-paying, unskilled labor such as call-center work.

By contrast, the unemployment rate was just 4.6% in 2007.

Now Elkhart County and the surrounding towns have thrown their weight behind what many hope will be their best hope to revive the industry base: electric vehiciles.

In August, President Obama visited the region to announce grants from the U.S. Department of Energy for Navistar.

Navistar acquired Monaco in June and plans to begin using its Elkhart facilities to produce zero-emission battery-powered trucks.

Meanwhile, just south of Elkhart in Wakarusa, Wil Cashen, the CEO of the Electric Motor Corp., is building what he believes is his own electric vehicle. He hopes it will not only help reinvigorate the area’s economy but tempt Americans into embracing a cleaner automotive future.

Cashen, once an engineer for Lotus, grew up in Wakarusa. Although he also has a home in Malibu, Calif., he returned to his hometown with the idea to build an electric pickup truck based on the top-selling Ford F-150.

“It just makes sense to build it here. Everyone should be here,” said Cashen, referring to other electric-car companies. “It’s not just about bringing value to the community, but for economies of scale. Everything from wiring to the dealer networks, you have right here. It just makes sense.”

Cashen expects to be making the first deliveries of the trucks by June 2010.

According to Damico, EMC’s announcement that EMC would be building their trucks in the Elkhart area “got the ball rolling” in creating interest in electric-vehicle technology. “We needed something other than RVs, but now there are even two RV companies hiring people back — Dutchman and Keystone — and interestingly, they’re building toward more fuel efficiency.”

Damico says it will take a long time before all of those high-paying jobs are back, and any real recovery is still more than a year away.

“Can we get all those people who lost their jobs back to work?” asks Damico. “I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know if electric vehicles are what’s going to do it either.”

But Neufeldt, who lost his job with Monaco Coach before becoming a spokesman for Green Jobs for America, said it’s worth a try.

“This country has got to do something,” he said. “And I do believe we can have a green revolution. People are so desperate for work around here I think they’re starting to believe it.”

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Fractured Economy in Northeast Indiana on the Mend

October 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The health of the northeast Indiana job market is on the mend after months of suffering more acutely than the rest of the country.

In the three months ended Sept. 30, employers in northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio announced plans to add 1,080 more workers than they planned to cut, according to a quarterly analysis by the Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne, Ind.

It’s the third such analysis this year and the first to suggest a net gain of jobs in the 15-county region.

As in the previous two quarters, manufacturing was the dominant sector in the most recent economic scorecard. Big announcements at two of the region’s manufacturing powerhouses accounted for 1,000 of the 1,670 jobs that employers promised to create.

General Motors Co. announced last month that with the closure of a truck plant in Pontiac, Mich., it would add a third shift at its Allen County assembly plant, bringing 700 jobs to the region by April.

And after a private-equity firm brought Fleetwood RV Inc. to decatur, Ind.,  it announced in August that it would add 300 jobs to its workforce of 630 by mid-November.

The analysis is based on announcements of which  the newspaper was already aware, but it does provide a snapshot of the area economy. And John Stafford, director of the Community Research Center at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, said the numbers jibe with statistics his agency is compiling.

“We’re just measuring audible sound,” he said, explaining that many smaller job decisions probably aren’t publicly announced.

Even so, the numbers reflect a tentative recovery in a regional manufacturing economy that fell further and faster than other sectors did.

In the first three months of 2009, companies announced 2,500 layoffs or cuts and 850 hires. In the second quarter, 4,560 layoffs and cuts were announced, compared with just 512 hires.

The region and the entire Midwest lost manufacturing jobs this year as companies cut production more quickly than sales plummeted, cutting deeply into inventories, said William A. Strauss, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago who compiles the Midwest Manufacturing Index.

“I think the financial crisis hit manufacturing more heavily than it did other parts of the economy,” Strauss said.

Car and truck sales, for example, fell 27 % in the first eight months of 2009 compared with the same period of 2008. But production was slashed by 46%, Strauss said.

The recession and tighter credit markets made it difficult for consumers and small manufacturers to get loans and do business. And it helped tip some huge companies – such as General Motors Corp. and Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. – into bankruptcy.

Auto sector’s shifts

The 2,600 workers at the Allen County truck plant were idled for 10 weeks starting in May as bankrupt GM struggled to reduce inventories. But after the new General Motors Co. emerged from bankruptcy court in July, inventories fell further than expected, thanks in part to the federal ”Cash for Clunkers” program.

In July, GM announced it would spend $46 million retooling the Allen County plant so it could make heavy-duty pickups. In August, GM said it was cranking up production in Allen County and at its Defiance, Ohio, foundry. Then in September, GM said it was adding a 700-employee third shift in Allen County.

Many of the new workers at the plant will come from the roughly 1,000 who lost jobs this month when GM closed its truck plant in Pontiac, but it still will be a boon to the regional economy.

Even though the biggest news in the regional job market for the quarter is the new auto industry jobs, the sector also accounted for the biggest losses.

GM announced in August that 175 workers – 115 in Allen County and 60 in Defiance – took advantage of a second round of buyouts offered this year to employees.

And in July, parts maker Meridian Automotive Systems Inc. closed its Grabill plant, putting 120 out of work.

For Fleetwood, orders have steadily grown since summer, said John Draheim, president of the new Fleetwood RV. The problem has been in getting parts.

“The supply chain has been fractured,” he said.

While most firms that directly supply Fleetwood made it through the downturn, some suppliers didn’t, causing disruptions.

“Occasionally we have to take some down days to let them catch up,” Draheim said.

Even so, Fleetwood’s staffing was “a little bit north of 850” last week and growing, Draheim said.

The third-quarter’s third-largest job addition also was in the RV industry. Sweden-based Dometic LLC announced it would move 116 jobs from Mexico to LaGrange, Ind., by 2012 to make retractable RV awnings.

Confidence grows

Overall, the net additions to the regional workforce in the third quarter were modest compared with the losses announced earlier in the year. Fleetwood, for example, likely will finish 2009 with about 400 fewer workers in Decatur than it had in 2007.

And some huge losses might loom. Navistar Inc. is considering buying an office complex in Lisle, Ill. Navistar won’t say whether it’s thinking about moving more than 1,000 well-paying jobs there from Fort Wayne, but the company has told Lisle officials more than half the 3,500 office employees would come from out of state.

Other than Fort Wayne, the only city where Navistar has a sizable white-collar operation is Knoxville, Tenn., where it employs 89, according to the company website.

But as the Federal Reserve’s Strauss meets with business leaders throughout the Midwest, he said things are slowly getting better.

“There has been a very significant change in terms of business confidence,” he said.

Jeff Rohyans of New Haven also is more confident. In January, he was laid off from the Parker Hannifin plant in New Haven. He drew unemployment for six weeks before going back to Parker Hannifin on temporary status in April and then moving to a temporary job at steel fabricator Almet Inc. in June.

He took more than a $3 hourly pay cut from the $14 an hour he made at Parker Hannifin. But after commercial construction starts to recover, Rohyans, 35, expects to be made permanent at Almet and to get the insurance and other benefits that come with it.

Judging from the train traffic he’s seen through New Haven, Rohyans said he feels the economy is on the mend.

“I like to use the phrase ‘cautiously optimistic,’” he said.

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Navistar Launches Online Effort: Maxxforce TV

September 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

image.phpAs Navistar International Corp. completes its final testing stages and prepares for the upcoming launch of its 2010 MaxxForce engines, a new online entertainment channel – MaxxForce TV – is making its debut, according to a news release.

Starting this month, customers will be able to learn about the benefits of Navistar’s MaxxForce brand engines — used by several RV manufacturers — in a whole new way with the launch of MaxxForce TV, an online channel devoted entirely to trucks and engines. The inaugural series, “Maxx IQ,” is an entertaining and informative game show hosted by Joe Elmore, host of the television show “Horsepower TV” on the Spike Network.

In each fast-paced segment, Elmore tests the engine smarts of drivers at truckstops and other locations across the country for a chance to win cash and prizes. Online viewers are encouraged to play along to increase their own knowledge of MaxxForce products and hone their skills in case this traveling game show rolls into their town.

The face of Maxx IQ is Nashville’s own Joe Elmore, known to car and truck enthusiasts as the co-host of America’s longest-running performance car show, “Horsepower TV.” Every weekend on the show, he shares engine building tips and visits hot rod and automotive events around the country. Hero to millions of fellow “gearheads,” he’s the perfect fit for a game show that’s all about trucks and engines.

“Joe already has such a great knowledge of engines,” noted Mark Johnson, Navistar marketing communications manager. “We knew he was going to bring a great presence to Maxx IQ. Viewers are definitely going to enjoy seeing him in action — whether they’re watching on their computers, or lucky enough to become contestants.”

“Obviously, engines are one of my passions,” said Elmore. “So it was satisfying to give drivers a chance to win some money and educate them about MaxxForce engines at the same time. During the shoot, I got the opportunity to test-drive the engines myself and they have some real power. I was impressed.”

The first four episodes of Maxx IQ can be viewed on www.maxxforcetv.com. The next four episodes will be released later this month.

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