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Hoosier Official Touts RV Industry in Speech

December 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Becky Skillman

Becky Skillman

Becky Skillman, Indiana lieutenant governor, touted job creation in the RV industry during a speech in Elkhart, Ind., on Thursday (Dec. 16).

Speaking to an audience of mostly female business executives sponsored by the Women’s Council of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, Skillman said she is glad to see the RV industry as part of Elkhart county’s full revitalization efforts. Indiana is seeing new life in the RV industry with companies like Nexus RV LLC, Jayco RV and its subsidiary, Starcraft RV, in Elkhart county, she said. These companies are investing in Elkhart, expanding and creating new jobs for Hoosiers.

In 2010 the state’s economic development corporation (Indiana Economic Development Corp.), has received commitments for more than 22,000 new jobs and more than $4.3 billion in private capital investment, noted Skillman. This year is becoming the strongest year-to-date for new job commitments since Gov. Mitch Daniels and Skillman assumed office in 2005.

Skillman is contemplating a run to succeed Daniels in 2012. He cannot run for a third conseucutive term, due to term limits in Indiana.

Indiana has been among the leaders in private sector job growth in 2010. According to the latest numbers from the U.S. bureau of Labor Statistics, Indiana’s job growth was at 2.1%. That’s more than two times the national average, she said.

Elkhart County has attracted investments and new jobs in the RV industry as well as in the manufacturing of the next generation electric vehicles. Daniels recently joined executives from THINK North America to announce the company’s investment of $43 million and their plans to create 400 new jobs.

Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources took possession on Thursday of 15 electric vehicles made by Think at the Elkhart plant, housed in a former RV supply factory on the city’s east side.

Site Selection Magazine just ranked Indiana’s business climate as the eighth best in the nation – putting Indiana in the top 10 every year for the past three years.

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Hoosier Newspaper Covers Louisville Product

December 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: The Goshen (Ind.) News published this summary of products made by Northern Indiana-based RV firms that were shown at the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show.

New and improved were the two popular words at the recent Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) trade show in Louisville, Ky.

Elkhart County companies involved in making recreational vehicles used the show to promote their products to dealers. Here are a few of the new offerings that were at the show.

Newmar Corp.

Newmar Corp. of Nappanee unveiled its Ventana LE.

The Ventana LE will retail for $30,000 less than the company’s Ventana motorhome.

“Yet, we haven’t sacrificed eye appeal or popular features to hit this price point. When customers see the Ventana LE for the first time, the value will be obvious. We anticipate market share growth for our dealers and Newmar with this exciting product introduction,” said Pat Terveer, director of sales.

The Ventana LE features an aluminum-framed sidewall and roof construction on 16-inch centers. The motorhome is powered by a Cummins ISB 340 horsepower engine on a Freightliner chassis. The motorhome comes in 36-foot and 38-foot lengths.

Dometic Group

Dometic presented 17 new products at the show, including:

  • QuietZone Ducted AC that the company says increases airflow by 26% while decreasing noise and vibration.
  • AlumaRoom, a snap-in-place patio room that features flexible windows and water funnels.
  • Breathe Easy Air Purification that the company says can reduce volatile organic compounds by 57% and formaldehyde levels by 41% within a six-hour period.
  • 9500E Power Lateral Arm Awning, a rafterless, remote-controlled awning with a wind sensor and pitch adjustment and other features.
  • The LW3000 Plus portable digital inverter/gasoline generator. The company stated the unit can run for up to 10 hours.
  • The SlideTopper cover that automatically rolls out to cover a slideout.

In addition, the company has added the Better Homes & Gardens mattress collection from Serta to its product lineup.

Starcraft RV

Starcraft of Topeka introduced the AR-ONE travel trailer and the Travel Star Expandable Sport 187TB lightweight travel trailer.

The company said the AR-ONE is an entry-level trailer with three floorplans in 14-, 15- and 16-foot lengths.

The trailers are designed to be towed by most minivans and SUVs and crossover vehicles.

The Travel Star has three tented bunks, laminated roof and sidewalls, microwave oven and large kitchen window.

Another introduction was the 12RT Camping Trailer. It features a sofa, porta-potti and has a 5-by-8 foot cargo deck.

Jayco Inc.

Jayco Inc. of Middlebury introduced 8- and 10-foot Jay Series Sport camping trailers. The trailers come in two floorplans and feature E-Z Lube axles, reversible dinette cushions, an ice box and 10-gallon freshwater system.

Jayco also introduced the Skylark travel trailer with the 21FB floorplan. Upgrades include a fiberglass skin and roof, new graphics, black extrusion and baggage doors and aluminum split rims.

The Eagle 330RLTX travel trailer has been added to the Eagle lineup. The trailer features dual hide-a-beds in opposing slideouts, a side aisle leading to a bedroom and a large bathroom in the front of the unit.

Shasta

Shasta, based in Middlebury, redesigned all its products that were shown at the RV show.

Shasta’s Revere travel trailer family features a one-piece seamless, fully walkable rubber roof and aluminum exterior skin. The trailers are built on structural steel I-beam frames that include an integrated A-frame.

The Revere trailers have seven-foot interior ceilings and a 5/8-inch tongue-and-groove plywood floor.

The Revere also comes in the LE line, which has a lower price.

Shasta’s new ultra-light lineup carries the Freeport name. The trailer has welded aluminum framing with R-9 insulation and a vapor barrier and heated/enclosed underbelly.

The Class C lineup is labeled Cynara.

The Class C’s feature fiberglass roofs and 2-inch laminated, vacuum-bonded sidewalls with aluminum frames.

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Dealer Open Houses: A Good Week in Elkhart

October 1, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

Party scene this week at Forest River Inc. RV dealer open house

Party scene this week at Forest River Inc. RV open house

As the dust settles from the first annual Open House Week in and around Elkhart County, Ind., the region’s recreational vehicle manufacturers are beginning to assess the impact of what they experienced this week as at least 15 RV builders followed the lead of Elkhart-based Forest River Inc. in opening their doors to thousands of North American RV dealer personnel.

What makes it so unique and novel is that few of these companies worked together in orchestrating these open houses. No chamber of commerce or economic development agency called industry players to the table and proposed that they all, in concert, host dealers the week of Sept. 27-Oct.1.

This, instead, was more of a spontaneous action by RV builders intent on capturing the attention of North American RV retailers in the fall, even in some cases if it means pre-empting to an extent the industry’s traditional “Louisville Show,” the 48th Annual National RV Trade Show slated for Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Louisville.

Again, Forest River started it all in 2008 when the economic atmosphere wasn’t all that good and the Berkshire Hathaway unit’s senior management decided to do something to build dealers’ spirits. Their answer was a big product show on the grounds of the company’s corporate headquarters on the west side of Elkhart.

“The recession led us to this because of our financial strength, and, being a strong company, we wanted to show the dealers that we thought that they needed a boost because a lot of the morale was weak that year,” recalls Forest River National Sales Manager Jeff Babcock. “We wanted to build the dealers’ confidence that, of course, Forest River’s going to be here and have them come down here, as we said, and stroll through the acres of product and have a good time on us.

“And I think we’ve got a pretty good reputation for taking care of dealers down here,” Babcock added. “We thought that, hey, it would be a good thank you to the dealers to throw something here. And, you know, we had a good turnout that year, and every year it continues to grow and grow and grow.”

The difference this year is that other manufacturers decided to piggyback on Forest River’s event with their own open houses on the same week, and the dealers came in droves, flooding area hotels, restaurants and bars starting on Monday. The action built up on Tuesday and peaked for the most part on Wednesday evening when hundreds of dealers converged on two sites in particular.

The social hour hot spots were rather predictable, as three Thor Industries Inc. divisions, Keystone RV Co. Inc., Thor Motor Coach and Breckenridge, worked together to host several hundred dealers at a happy hour gathering in a tent outside the RV/MH Hall of Fame on Elkhart’s east side. Some estimated the crowd at 650.

On the opposite side of town, Forest River presided over a blowout party so big – they say it drew in excess of 3,000 dealer personnel – that the company’s caterers were hard pressed to keep up. The party tent, which also featured live music like Thor’s, was positioned amid 500 display units.

From all we can tell, most all of the parties involved this week seemed to come away with a good taste in their mouths for the entire sequence of events. The general consensus was that, whatever occurred here in Elkhart this week, it was all “plus business.” And that goes for some of the smaller companies like Open Range RV, Evergreen Recreational Vehicles, Dynamax Corp. and Carriage Inc. for whom a story was posted earlier this week.

Manufacturers say that Open House Week did a good job of servicing an industry that is still finding its equilibrium on the heels of a global recession.

Doug Gaeddert

Doug Gaeddert

“It was fantastic,” said Doug Gaeddert, general manager of several Forest River divisions and first vice chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), sponsor of the annual Louisville Show. “Each year (the open house) gets better, and anybody who’s anybody in the RV business was pretty much in town this week. And, absolutely, it will be a record-breaking deal that will take us right on through into the first part of the year. It’s been fantastic.”

Pete Liegl

Pete Liegl

Gaeddert says everyone benefitted from the added participation of other companies. “I think it has benefitted the local community,” he said. “It’s obviously benefitted Forest River greatly and all the companies who have tagged on. I don’t know if there’s anybody left who didn’t do one this year. But if there are, I hope they do one next year.”

Forest River President and CEO Pete Liegl says the towable and motorized manufacturer drew in excess of 800 U.S. and Canadian dealerships and ultimately hosted 400 more people had pre-registered for the event, many of whom were bonafide buyers.

He says it’s all a general reflection of the industry’s surprising strength at this point in time. “Unquestionably,” said Liegl, “things have been good this year, and I think that things are going to be damn good next year. I really do.”

So, plan on Forest River following suit next year. “We’re running out of land,” said Liegl. “In fact, we added 20 acres next door that we didn’t have last year for extra parking. Heck, we can close down the streets next year, but I don’t know if we can outdo the enthusiasm of the dealers this year. I really don’t. Dealers are positive, happy, not only with us, but with everything. They’ve all had a pretty good year. They’ve survived 2009, and they’re operating much more like true businessmen, which is good, and I believe next year’s going to be even better. I really do.”

The general tenor of comments was much the same among the Thor companies that joined forces over at the Hall of Fame.

Bill Fenech

Bill Fenech

“It’s a good thing, a great thing for our dealers from all over the continent and overseas, and it’s a great thing for us as manufacturers,” Bill Fenech, president of Thor Motor Coach, told RVBUSINESS.com. “Dealers got to see a bunch of new products in a casual, relaxed environment. I can’t tell you how many dealers are saying ‘this is a great thing you’re doing for the industry.’”

Bob Martin

Bob Martin

“The venue here brings a whole different atmosphere,” noted Matt Thompson, vice president and general manager of Thor Motor Coach’s diesel brands. “And I think the dealers really appreciate it, and we’ve been able to really relax, sit down, spend a lot more quality time together with individual dealers and really rekindle some old relationships and build some new ones. It’s really unlike anything I’ve seen in the last ten years that I’ve been in this business.”

“For us, it was phenomenal,” Keystone President Bob Martin told RVBUSINESS.com. “It’s our first time doing it, and we’re very excited. We had great attendance.”

In anticipation of Open House Week, Martin said, Keystone moved some 2011 product changes forward on the calendar and had plenty for dealers to see. Fact is, Martin noted, September may be a better time frame for new model introductions rather than November or December when the Louisville Show is held – at least for some dealers and some products.

Thus, open house week could be playing a role in changing – to an extent – the industry’s habits. “It is,” said Martin. “Dealers are excited. They think it’s a good time of the year to come in and see product – a good time of the year to make buying decisions because they can buy new current product for the fall so they’re ready for spring show season. Everybody’s asked, ‘how does this affect Louisville?’ We don’t know yet. I mean, we’ll still have new products at Louisville and a reason to come to Louisville as well.

“Overall, though, it was very positive. Many dealers came through. They loved the product and the venue. You know, having it at the Hall of Fame is a draw. Many of the dealers actually haven’t been to the Hall of Fame, So, with that, it’s made the complete package with Keystone, Thor Motorized and Breckenridge. It’s been a very good venue for us.”

Indeed, the open house – a low-budget approach to manufacturer-dealer relations that has been used for years by individual companies — was a topic of choice over drinks at more than one local lounge as people began to analyze where all of this might lead.

Many in the industry have long treasured the fact that the recreational vehicle business still has a strong, single-site national show at which an entire spectrum of companies can participate, including component and service suppliers, aftermarket distributors, software vendors, finance companies, etc.

These open houses certainly aren’t cogent supplier venues, although a few suppliers did set up displays at a couple open houses. And their absence, most agree, would be a real problem if open house week ever gained an edge over Louisville.

Other concerns? How about the weather? The elements cooperated this past week; the weather was beautiful. But what if it wasn’t? With so many companies operating with outside venues, with tents in a few cases being the only shelter other than nearby factories and the insides of display units, the entire sequence of events was completely vulnerable to the elements. And everyone knows it.

As for expenses? While this whole phenomenon is sort of a low-budget sales tactic, it’s not all that cheap of an approach for the key manufacturers who covered dealers’ lodging, shuttle service and entertainment while in town.

And what about RVIA, the national trade association that depends so heavily on revenues from the Louisville Show to balance its annual budget? Louisville, loyalists point out, helps fund standards programs, political lobbying, public relations initiatives and so forth. What would become of the association and all of its critical services it if the wheels would ever come off the Louisville Show?

RVIA, for its part, is standing by and observing the whole scenario, cognizant, as RVIA President Richard Coon pointed out in a Monday (Sept. 27) statement, that “there continues to be strong, widespread industry support” for the Louisville Show.

“This year,” wrote Coon, “we will have 71 manufacturers and 230 suppliers displaying the latest RVs and products across more than 760,000 square feet of exhibit space. That is a substantial increase over the 604,000 feet of space used last year. Additionally, my colleagues at the manufacturing companies holding these events in Elkhart have assured me that the National RV Trade Show remains an integral part of their plans this year and moving forward.”

That said, few would argue that this past week’s activities around Elkhart County could be a harbinger of some eventual changes for the industry and, ultimately, for RVIA and the Louisville Show.

How much change remains to be seen.

“Well I think it’s changing the industry’s habits pretty greatly,” said Gaeddert. “As to the fate of the Louisville Show, which I know is a little bit of a question on everybody’s mind, I don’t think it threatens the Louisville Show. (But it’s) probably a little incentive for the Louisville Show to become a little more creative, raise the value of that product even further.

“Obviously,” he added, “I’m involved in RVIA, and I think it’ll push RVIA to increase the value of the Louisville Show and look at some issues – maybe timing – with respect to the value of that product. This is a competitive world, and I don’t care if you’re an association, a manufacturer, a publisher, if you don’t improve the value of your product continuously, somebody else will.”

“Louisville is a great show and it has its place,” noted Fenech. But he said that timing is a key issue because dealers who wait to buy at Louisville usually can’t get product in time for their key early retail shows – often not until February or March. In a perfect world where both the open houses and Louisville prevail, he suggests, dealers can do both – buy in September and December.

“Consider this a sneak peak at the Louisville Show,” adds Thompson, noting that his Thor division will be bringing significant new product to Louisville, including the company’s biggest unveiling of the year — a Class A that will be “one of a kind in the industry.”

“I think that dealers are taking more time in choosing the brands and the companies they do business with,” said Don Clark, president of Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., a Thor division that set up separately on the north side of Elkhart in a vacant boat manufacturing plant. “And having an Elkhart open house will give them an opportunity to meet with the manufacturer and find out not only if the product is a good fit, but if the company and the people are a good fit for their businesses.”

Dealers with whom RVBUSINESS.com chatted in Elkhart generally viewed the open houses as a plus. “You can see product in a relaxed atmosphere,” said Doug O’Banion, president of Motor Home Specialist, Alvarado, Texas, a key Monaco dealer and one of Texas’s largest RV retailers. “It’s a great idea for the manufacturers and the dealers to come and see what they have to offer. If we see something we don’t have, we’ll order it.”

O’Banion, on the other hand, doesn’t see the open houses as a viable replacement for the Louisville Show. “As a dealer,” he said, “you will see at Louisville what the other manufacturers have. You have to go to Louisville.”

Jeannie Haught, co-owner of Northtown Motor Home in Rockford, Mich., also sees a lot of value in Louisville and suspects that the open house impact will be minimal. “This is a product show,” she said of this past week’s events. “Louisville is where you go to see what your competitors are carrying. This should not hurt the Louisville Show.”

But Roger Smith, owner of Smith Trailer Sales in Monroe, Ind., thinks this latest open house twist could make the Louisville Show obsolete. “I think we can do away with Louisville,” he said. “I saw more here than in Louisville. That’s the disappointment (vs. the National RV Trade Show).”

Based on what they saw and experienced this past week in Elkhart, meanwhile, Robb Cusack, Rod Roy and David Epp of Fraserway RV’s seven-store Canadian operations feel they may have seen a glimpse of the future. The trio, who visited Gulf Stream Coach Inc., R-Vision, Starcraft RV, Evergreen and Thor events, among others, think this whole open house concept is going to get legs in the future.

“I feel this is the new Louisville,” said Cusack, who runs the company’s Halifax store. “This is where dealers are going to come and see what’s new for the following year for product. I mean, it’s very exciting to be here. The weather’s awesome. And I’ll tell you what: The manufacturers have gone way over the top. There’s entertainment, food – I mean we didn’t buy one meal in four days. It’s amazing.”

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Starcraft RV Unveiling Small AR-ONE Trailer

September 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Starcraft RV AR-ONE copyProving the idea that less truly is more, Starcraft RV has announced the introduction of a new lightweight travel trailer called AR-ONE. The 2011 AR-ONE is designed to give owners a high value of camping’s essentials with a low-impact on the wallet, according to a news release.

“For some time now we’ve been telling our customers and dealers that Starcraft is all about camping – pure and simple. We’ve placed emphasis on providing our consumers with high value, practical features, not on high-cost items they neither want nor need,” said Jim Jacobs, general manager for Starcraft RV. “The AR-ONE is a perfect example of this philosophy.”

“The AR-ONE is a solidly built, affordable travel trailer that is towable by most standard and crossover SUVs and mini-vans,” Jacobs stated. “Weighing at around 2,000 – 2,500 pounds, it’s ideal for the family looking to move up from the standard fold-down, but not wanting to move out of their family vehicle.”

The AR-ONE is a member of the popular Starcraft Autumn Ridge travel trailer family. “The Starcraft Autumn Ridge is one of the more popular travel trailers in today’s market place,” said Brent Froman, national sales manager for Starcraft RV. “We took the quality construction found in the Autumn Ridge and applied those same principals in a lighter, aggressively priced model. However, with the AR-ONE, what you see is what you get. To keep the unit affordable and simple, all features are standard and there are no available options. This allows customers to have the necessary amenities without added cost. The focus is about an enjoyable camping experience – pure and simple.”

With three floorplans to choose from, the AR-ONE sleeps two to five people and is available in lengths from 14 to 16 feet. The 15RB floorplan has added sleeping capacity with an expandable Aqua-Shield Aqualon sectionalized tent.

The interior boasts a two-burner range; 3-cubic-foot three-way gas/electric refrigerator; a 54-inch booth dinette; ball-bearing drawer guides with a 50 pound capacity and full-drawer extension; hardwood cabinet drawers; and nickel hardware. In addition, the AR-ONE comes standard with cable and satellite TV prep; crank-up HDTV antenna with signal booster; pleated nightshades; residential furniture made by Starcraft; and vinyl flooring throughout.

Standard equipment includes a 6-gallon gas water heater, a 5,000-watt A/C unit, Carefree patio awning, microwave oven with carousel, spare tire with carrier and an AM/FM stereo with iPod/MP3 connection. In addition, the AR-ONE features dual-hitch safety chains, safety-glass windows, break-away switch and deadbolt lock on the entrance door.

“The goal was to go beyond creating a lightweight, travel trailer that can be pulled by the average family vehicle,” said Froman. “We wanted to give consumers a unique product that offers the necessities they need for a quality camping experience, a good value product at an aggressive price. The AR-ONE is that product.”

For more information on AR-ONE and other Starcraft products, call (800) 945-4787, or visit www.StarcraftCamping.com or www.facebook.com/StarcraftCamping.

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Starcraft RV Unveiling Small AR-ONE Trailer

September 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Starcraft RV's AR-ONE

Starcraft RV's AR-ONE

Proving the idea that less truly is more, Starcraft RV has announced the introduction of a new lightweight travel trailer called AR-ONE. The 2011 AR-ONE is designed to give owners a high value of camping’s essentials with a low-impact on the wallet, according to a news release.

“For some time now we’ve been telling our customers and dealers that Starcraft is all about camping – pure and simple. We’ve placed emphasis on providing our consumers with high value, practical features, not on high-cost items they neither want nor need,” said Jim Jacobs, general manager for Starcraft RV. “The AR-ONE is a perfect example of this philosophy.”

“The AR-ONE is a solidly built, affordable travel trailer that is towable by most standard and crossover SUVs and mini-vans,” Jacobs stated. “Weighing at around 2,000 – 2,500 pounds, it’s ideal for the family looking to move up from the standard fold-down, but not wanting to move out of their family vehicle.”

The AR-ONE is a member of the popular Starcraft Autumn Ridge travel trailer family. “The Starcraft Autumn Ridge is one of the more popular travel trailers in today’s market place,” said Brent Froman, national sales manager for Starcraft RV. “We took the quality construction found in the Autumn Ridge and applied those same principals in a lighter, aggressively priced model. However, with the AR-ONE, what you see is what you get. To keep the unit affordable and simple, all features are standard and there are no available options. This allows customers to have the necessary amenities without added cost. The focus is about an enjoyable camping experience – pure and simple.”

With three floorplans to choose from, the AR-ONE sleeps two to five people and is available in lengths from 14 to 16 feet. The 15RB floorplan has added sleeping capacity with an expandable Aqua-Shield Aqualon sectionalized tent.

The interior boasts a two-burner range; 3-cubic-foot three-way gas/electric refrigerator; a 54-inch booth dinette; ball-bearing drawer guides with a 50 pound capacity and full-drawer extension; hardwood cabinet drawers; and nickel hardware. In addition, the AR-ONE comes standard with cable and satellite TV prep; crank-up HDTV antenna with signal booster; pleated nightshades; residential furniture made by Starcraft; and vinyl flooring throughout.

Standard equipment includes a 6-gallon gas water heater, a 5,000-watt A/C unit, Carefree patio awning, microwave oven with carousel, spare tire with carrier and an AM/FM stereo with iPod/MP3 connection. In addition, the AR-ONE features dual-hitch safety chains, safety-glass windows, break-away switch and deadbolt lock on the entrance door.

“The goal was to go beyond creating a lightweight, travel trailer that can be pulled by the average family vehicle,” said Froman. “We wanted to give consumers a unique product that offers the necessities they need for a quality camping experience, a good value product at an aggressive price. The AR-ONE is that product.”

For more information on AR-ONE and other Starcraft products, call (800) 945-4787, or visit www.StarcraftCamping.com or www.facebook.com/StarcraftCamping.

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Jayco Reboots Starcraft’s Topeka Factory

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Starcraft RV logoIn a move brought on by improved economic conditions, the Starcraft RV Inc. division of Jayco Inc. today (May 6) announced that it has resumed production in its Topeka, Ind., plant.

The Starcraft facility had previously been closed and production of Starcraft products had been consolidated into Jayco’s Middlebury, Ind., complex as part of Jayco’s efforts to trim costs and reduce production capacity.

“When we consolidated the Starcraft operations into Jayco’s Middlebury campus, we indicated that our goal would be to reinstate the operations in Topeka as soon as market conditions would allow,” Jim Jacobs, Starcraft RV general manager, stated in a news release. “We believe that time is now. The year has started off on a pace well ahead of last year both in shipping and in retail sales activity. We continue to be optimistic that 2010 will be a much improved year for our industry.”

Jacobs added that the initial production move focuses on Autumn Ridge travel trailers, the company’s popular entry level towable products. He indicated that the company will hire as many as 50 workers this year in the re-opened facility. Remaining product lines will be transferred back to the Topeka facility as market conditions dictate over the next 18 months.

“This re-start of production in Topeka will provide Starcraft RV with the opportunity to more quickly respond to the marketplace, to continue our focus on core products, and ultimately allow us to become an aggressive competitor in the RV industry,” said Jacobs. “We anticipate the Topeka campus will eventually house four manufacturing assembly lines, and two side department operations, thereby allowing us to employ several hundred people long-term. The growth from both a production and employment standpoint will take place gradually.”

First off the line in Topeka, the 2011 Starcraft Autumn Ridge travel trailers will be available in several floorplans ranging from 22 feet to just over 35 feet. Designed for a variety of lifestyles and budgets, the Autumn Ridge boasts a level of standard equipment and optional upgrades normally limited to more expensive units, thus offering greater value to RV users.

With headquarters re-established in Topeka, Indiana, in the heart of Amish country, Starcraft RV manufactures and markets towable RVs under the Starcraft, Centennial, RT, Travel Star, Autumn Ridge, Lexion, Lexion S-Lite and Rock Star brand names. For more information on Starcraft Autumn Ridge and other Starcraft products, call 1-800-945-4787, or visit www.StarcraftCamping.com.

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Jayco’s Expansion: Another Sign of RV Upturn

March 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Th Aspire Class A by Entegra Motorhomes

The Aspire Class A by Entegra Coach

As one of a number of recreational vehicle manufacturers recovering from the recession of 2008-2009, Jayco Inc. will start building high-end Entegra Class A motorhomes in June in a 30,000-square-foot addition to its factory in Middlebury, Ind.

”The expansion has started,” Jayco President and COO Derald Bontrager told RVBusiness. ”We have moved dirt. We anticipate that the building will increase our production from 150 a year to right around a thousand.”

The city of Middlebury in February approved a 10-year tax abatement on the property and a three-year abatement on manufacturing and IT equipment that will be going into the new facility.

In a related move, Jayco in May will restart limited production of its Starcraft towable RV brand in the same Topeka, Ind., factory that it mothballed last year as the company moved Starcraft production to Middlebury during the recession. Full production of Starcraft units is expected to shift back to Topeka over the next two to three years as some models continue for now to be built in Middlebury.

Initially, Jayco will move 65 people to Topeka to build Starcraft’s Autumn Ridge and Travel Star towables.

”At the time (of Starcraft’s 2009 move to Middlebury) we said that when market conditions allowed us we would reopen in Topeka,” Bontrager said. ”We feel the time is now to take advantage of the market that is starting to return. We don’t have a timetable yet, but we will be moving all our Starcraft product lines over to Topeka.”

Jim Jacobs recently was named general manager of both the Starcraft RV and Entegra Coach divisions.

Derald Bontrager, Jayco president

Derald Bontrager, Jayco president

Bontrager said that both moves are in response to improvement of the RV market as the U.S. emerges from the longest economic recession in more than 50 years.

”During the winter months, part of what’s been going on, along with the increased retail activity, is that dealers have been restocking for the upcoming spring selling season,” Bontrager said. ”Retail shows all over the country have been very well attended and sales have been relatively good — better than last year. People are doing more than looking. They are out buying.”

In 2008, Jayco acquired the assets of former Wakarusa, Ind.-based Travel Supreme Corp. and created the Entegra line of Class A diesel pushers in lengths up to 45 feet with MSRPs from $250,000 to $600,000.

The recession that followed stifled Jayco’s plans for the Entegra. ”We are still pretty much a startup in the luxury diesel market,” Bontrager said.

Bontrager said the expansion of the Entegra production line is necessary. ”With our current production capacity of 150 a year, our backlogs have grown to an unacceptable level,” he said. ”We anticipate that there will be a two-year ramp up to get to the production level we want to hit as we build our dealer base and add to our (Entegra) product offering.”

Bontrager reported the company has rehired 250 people that had been laid off and that Jayco’s total employment is now at about 1,500 workers. ”Our production today is double what it was a year ago,” he said.

But while economic prospects appear to be improving, Bontrager said that the RV industry still has a way to go before full recovery.

”There are still a lot of segments of our industry and of the economy that have to come back before we are on really solid footing. It’s going to be a different type of recovery; it’s going to be a slow recovery.”

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Jayco Inc. Makes Good on Reinstatement Pledge

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The local RV business got another sizable shot of good news Wednesday (March 3), according to the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune.

Starcraft RV, a division of Jayco Inc., announced it will reopen its Topeka, Ind., manufacturing facilities in May.

The reopening of the plant in southwestern LaGrange County means 50 new jobs.

“This calendar year it involves 50 new jobs, but eventually it will be a pretty big deal with as many as 250 jobs over the next two to three years,” said Sid Johnson, marketing director for Jayco.

The plant had been closed since January 2009 as part of Jayco’s corporate efforts to trim costs and production capacity because of the recession.

The company said in its release that initially it will move production of Starcraft Autumn Ridge travel trailers from its Middlebury complex. Over time, company officials said they anticipate that production of most, if not all of Starcraft RV product lines, will be relocated back to the Topeka plants.

“When we consolidated operations into the Middlebury campus last year, we stated that our goal was to reinstate the Topeka operations as soon as market conditions would allow us to do so,” Jim Jacobs, general manager of Starcraft RV, said in the release.

“Now that our business has begun to recover from the recent recession cycle, we believe the timing is right to accelerate these activities,” he said.

Johnson said the 50 workers to be hired will likely be some of the old workers who lost their jobs as well as new hires.

“I am not sure (recalling only former workers) will work for 100% of our needs,” Johnson said.

“Obviously, we would like to have experienced people and if there are qualified, experienced Starcraft workers who are available, I think we would want for sure to be able to talk to them.”

The news is on the heels of the late January announcement that Jayco had begun an expansion of its motorhome manufacturing facility, which will increase production output for the company’s lines of Entegra Coach Class A motorhomes.

That expansion will result in 40 to 50 new jobs at the Middlebury campus beginning in July, and an additional 30 jobs to be created longer-term as production reaches full capacity, Derald L. Bontrager, president and chief operating officer of Jayco, said.

Jayco started the Entegra Coach division in 2008 as a result of its acquisition of the assets of the former Travel Supreme Corp.

The Jayco announcement follows a string of RV expansions that have been announced over the past several months.

The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reported recently that RV sales are rebounding significantly over a year ago.

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More Good News: Starcraft Reopens in Topeka

March 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

sc_logoStarcraft RV, a division of Jayco Inc., today (March 3) announced that it will reopen its Topeka, Ind., manufacturing facilities beginning in May.

The Starcraft RV plant had been closed in January 2009 as part of the Jayco corporate efforts to trim costs and reduce production capacity as a result of recessionary economic pressures, according to a news release.

The company said it will initially move production of Starcraft Autumn Ridge travel trailers from its Middlebury, Ind., complex and the move will create 50 jobs at the Topeka facility later this year. Over time, company officials said they anticipate that production of most, if not all, of Starcraft RV product lines will be relocated back to the Topeka plants.

In making the announcement, Jim Jacobs, general manager of Starcraft RV, said, “When we consolidated operations into the Middlebury campus last year, we stated that our goal was to reinstate the Topeka operations as soon as market conditions would allow us to do so. Now that our business has begun to recover from the recent recession cycle, we believe the timing is right to accelerate these activities.”

Fewer than 20 workers were transferred to Middlebury, where they continued to make Starcraft products, Sid Johnson, Jayco’s director of marketing, told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Some will transfer back to Topeka, and 50 workers will hired in addition, Johnson said.

Jayco hopes eventually to employ 200 to 250 at the Topeka plant, but that depends on how well the RV market recovers, Johnson said.

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