The RV/MH Hall of Fame is counting down toward April 30, which is the deadline to reach $150,000 goal in voluntary contributions in order to qualify for the Robert “Boots” Ingram family’s $50,000 challenge grant that would pay off the Hall’s bank note to 1st Source Bank.
According to Hall President Darryl Searer, the ‘Burn the Bank Note” campaign has raised just under $50,000 as of mid-February, leaving about $100,000 still needed to earn the Ingram family’s generous challenge grant.
Searer said, “In order to emphasize the importance of the April 30 deadline, we have added a countdown clock to our web site (www.rvmhhalloffame.org) so visitors can see the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the deadline.
To date, contributions include a $10,000 donation by Darrel and Harrel Cohron Charitable Gift Fund in honor of the founders of Darrel & Harrel Cohron Homes, Indianapolis. The Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) also contributed $10,000.
Elden Smith, retired Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. executive, and Gary Motley of Motley RV Repair, Oklahoma City, each contributed $1,000 toward the “Burn the Bank Note” fundraiser. Many other contributions ranging from $20 to $500 have also helped, according to Searer.
Searer said that the Hall’s bank loan to 1st Source Bank has been reduced from $840,000 in early 2012 to less than $200,000 now. “If we reach our goal and receive the Ingram Family’s challenge grant, we’ll be able to pay off the bank loan on May 1,” he added.
Barry Cole, chairman of the Hall’s board, noted, “We have come a long way in less than a year to bring the Hall back to the prominence it had before where donors are worry free and proud to contribute again.
“Much of the credit for the turnaround must go to Darryl Searer, who volunteered on a no-compensation basis to become the Hall’s president because he believed our Hall of Fame and Museum was too important to the RV/MH industries to allow it to go away. The board appreciates Darryl’s business insight, plus his dedication, persistence and innovative ideas that have led this turnaround.”
Since the RV/MH Heritage Foundation is a 501-c3 not-for-profit corporation, all donations are tax deductible. Donors can use our federal ID#: 35-1610362.to verify that we are a 501-c3 not-for-profit corporation in good standing with the IRS.
Gifts may be made by mail, in person at the Hall, by phone at (800) 378-8694 or through the Hall’s secure web site: www.rvmhhalloffame.org.
Editor’s Note: Paul Solman, a staffer on PBS’s Newshour program, filed this update story on Dec. 23 on the status of the RV industry.
Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that in the heart of unemployment country, Elkhart, Ind., things are looking up — or, more accurately perhaps, “less down.”
Unemployment there now stands at 14.5%, reasonably well below its peak of 18% when we were there in March. The reason: a pick-up in the recreational vehicle industry. (Viewers may remember that Elkhart is the RV capital of the world, hosting the RV Hall of Fame and a whole host of manufacturers.)
The closest approximation to a random sample that we in the anecdata business can easily conjure is to follow up with people we’ve already interviewed. So I called Ed Neufeldt, one of the stars of our March piece, who introduced President Obama when he made his third trip in a year to Elkhart in February.
As the WSJ reports today, Neufeldt has a job with an electric motor company that’s coming to Elkhart.
“I was hired as a spokesman for the company,” says Neufeldt, “but there haven’t been many speaking opportunities.” So he’s been working part-time, helping clean up a building the Electric Motors Co. is getting ready for manufacturing, while also delivering bread on Wednesdays and Sundays. He’s earning no more than he did on unemployment insurance but says it’s much better: “I’d much rather work.”
As for the rest of his family, which we’d assembled at Cook’s Pizza, here’s the latest rundown, in order of appearance:
Lisa Neufeldt (daughter): Recently married, she’s still stocking shelves with bread, part-time. She had a chance to return to the RV industry but, her dad says, “She thought it was too risky to go back.” Her husband, a laid-off RV worker, has been rehired.
Lori Gaut (another of Ed’s daughters): Still working part-time at Menards.
Josh Gaut (Lori’s husband, laid off for 4 months when we were there): Back at work in the RV industry, four to five days a week, with a two-week furlough for Christmas.
Lucinda Gaut (Josh’s mother, who’d been laid off from the RV industry the week before we hit town): She’s opened a consignment shop — furniture, clothing, etc.
Don Gaut (Lucinda’s husband): An RV vet who’d been out-of-work for more than a year, Don has had recurring back woes, is not working.
As for public stimulus money and Elkhart, Mayor Dick Moore had showed us three would-be projects:
- The renovation of an old, once-majestic vaudeville theater.
- A traffic overpass (or underpass, depending on your point of view) near the heart of town.
- A long-needed overhaul of the city’s sewage system.
All three are on track, according to the mayor’s office. The theater is ahead of schedule and under budget (by $130,000) is the word, slated to re-open its door in late 2010 or early 2011. What will play first?
“A couple of guys want ‘Jersey Boys,” says Arvis Dawson, executive assistant to the mayor. “The mayor wants ‘Oklahoma.’ But in any case, something BIG.”
The overpass/underpass has gotten a bit of money ($700,000) via the local congressman; the city is still lobbying for its $66 million-dollar proposal under the stimulus program.
The sewage system is “proceeding”; the city is closing on very-low-interest money from the state next week.
Editor’s Note: Officials in Indiana’s Elkhart County were working this week to bring Mike Huckabee’s show, which airs Saturday night on the Fox News Channel, to Elkhart this week. Plans call for the show to be taped Saturday afternoon at the RV/MH Hall of Fame. The former Arkansas governor made an unsuccessful run to win the Republican nomination for president last year.
A leading official in Elkhart County, Ind., is lobbying state and federal legislators to target some of the federal economic stimulus money to complete work on the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart.
John Letherman, president of the Elkhart County Council, told RVBusiness that completing the conference center and showcase grounds at the Hall is on a “wish list” of 13 projects submitted to the state of Indiana in the last month and No. 4 on his personal wish list.
Private funding through the RV/MH Heritage Foundation Inc. got the Hall of Fame to its present state but further funding is drying up, leaving work on completion of the conference center, kitchen and 20-acre business showcase still on the drawing board. Cost to complete the facility is estimated at $10 million to $12 million.
Letherman has been lobbying Hoosier Congressmen Joe Donnelly and Mark Souder, whose congressional districts include Elkhart County, for a share of the $787 billion economic stimulus package President Obama signed into law on Feb. 17.
No funds have come Elkhart’s way thus far, but Letherman is still hopeful.
“If they are passing out money, we should be getting a large share because the New York Times says we’re ‘at the white hot epicenter of the recession’ and everyone knows the New York Times doesn’t lie,” he said. “Congress gave huge loans to the auto companies and they are still in business. Nobody gave anything to Elkhart County RV manufacturers and we lost a huge part of our business base because when sales slowed they just shut down and many went out of business.
“The fastest way to get back is to start selling RVs and getting them financed.”
Letherman, a prominent Republican at the local and state level, said he can make a persuasive argument why the community deserves the money for this and other capital improvement projects. He favors the Hall project because work to complete it could put hundreds of people to work and, once completed, the facility would give the RV industry an excellent venue to showcase its products.
“I know some people may think producing a venue is less important than taking care of unemployed people, but the best way to get people back to work is to start selling RVs again,” Letherman reiterated. “If we create a good venue to showcase RVs and a conference center where 1,000 people can sit down to eat, neither of which we have now, this will be good for Elkhart County in the long-term.”
A leading Midwestern caterer told the Hall of Fame staff that a facility able to seat 1,000 people for a meal could draw as many as 20 functions within the first year of operation.
Letherman, formerly employed in the RV industry but now a commercial realtor in Elkhart, said the finished Hall of Fame site would be an excellent location for the annual Midwest RV Show sponsored by the Indiana Manufactured Housing Association-Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (IMHA-RVIC). That show is currently staged at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds.
“Those guys who are still in business when this (recession) is all over with are going to need a venue to show their products, other than in the field behind the animal pens at the fairgrounds,” Letherman said. “The fairgrounds are a great place for 4-H projects and a midway. However, it is just not in my mind a proper place to be trying to showcase the outstanding RV and MH products that Elkhart County.”
Dennis Harney, IMHA-RVIC executive director, agreed that the completed Hall of Fame grounds would be a good venue for the Midwest Show and other manufacturer events.
Letherman said the Hall of Fame complex could broaden its appeal and become an “industrial showcase” for the region.
“There are people in Detroit who would like to bring shows down here because there are few venues with this kind of quality and exposure,” Letherman said. It also would help the community retain some of the business and social events that end up going to other communities because Elkhart County does not have a suitable facility, he added.
Letherman noted that Elkhart County government is known for being frugal in its spending.
“Both local government and the Hall of Fame know how to do a big project like this,” Letherman said, referring to careful spending on big projects. “The Hall, for its part, has raised almost $12 million and has built the finest facility in the Elkhart County Community, all with donated funds.”
Letherman has run his proposal by the Hall of Fame management and received its support. Heritage Foundation spokesman Tom McNulty called Letherman “a champion of the Hall” since before it opened and praised his efforts to get funding. However, he stressed that the foundation will not undertake partial completion of the conference center and won’t finish the show grounds until the money is in hand.
“My board has mandated we are not building anything until we have the money and that is how it should be,” he said.
Also, knowing where to go to get the economic stimulus funding could prove problematic.
“All of the stimulus money is being channeled through federal agencies or the state,” explained Tom Byers, Elkhart County administrator. “Nobody knows what the rules and regulations in getting access to these funds are. The criteria are being put together now.”
Richard Klein, a mechanical and aerospace engineer with more than 30 years of experience in vehicle dynamics, was among those addressing 82 representatives of 38 RV manufacturers and suppliers on the stability of trailer design during a March 5 seminar hosted by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind. Klein reviewed decades-old, safety-related engineering data, according to Bruce Hopkins, RVIA vice president of standards and education. “It appears from listening to Dick Klein that there was engineering information out there for 30 years that is valid today that only a few people knew about,” said David Mihalick, Thor Industries Inc. corporate standards compliance manager. “The seminar got us back to hard engineering data.” In addition to Klein, seminar speakers included consultant Harley Holt, president of Harley Holt and Associates Inc., and David Kinder, a partner with the Texas-based Cox Smith, a law firm that has represented RV manufacturers in cases involving claims related to travel trailer stability and rollovers. “The seminar provided a number of recommendations for the manufacturers to look at,” Hopkins said. The event was sponsored by AL-KO Kober, Corp., Dexter Axle Co. and Norco Industries.