As many as 2,000 people lined up Saturday (Aug. 28) at a factory that used to be one of Inland Southern California’s manufacturing hubs, hoping for a job with a company trying to revive what has become a moribund Southern California industry, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported.
MVP RV LLC, which recently bought two Riverside facilities once part of Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.’s operation, held a job fair Saturday, looking to hire 80 people to start work next month. MVP RV will probably add 150 more people in October and continue to hire incrementally into next spring, the peak season for RV sales, officials have said.
Earlier in the week, the company’s officers anticipated 1,500 people would line up to fill out applications. That threshold was reached by 11 a.m., two hours before the job fair was scheduled to end. Also, about 1,000 had submitted résumés before the event started, said Pablo Carmona, the company’s vice president of manufacturing.
They had also asked that only people who know the recreational vehicle industry apply, and there is no shortage of them in Inland Southern California. As many as 3,000 people once worked for Fleetwood, which also made manufactured homes, in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Fleetwood filed for bankruptcy in March 2009.
Many others made RVs for Thor of California in Moreno Valley and National RV Holdings Inc. and Weekend Warrior Trailers Inc., both of which were in Perris. All of those companies have closed in the last three years, victims of a poor economy.
Saturday’s event had elements of a reunion for former Fleetwood employees, but Joe Rivera, who had been an engineering technician for 23 years at Fleetwood, saw the size of the crowd and knew he was facing a numbers game.
“My chances are not good, but it depends on what their needs are,” said Rivera, 49. “I’m not sure if they need an engineering department, but maybe there’s something for me.”
Another person looking for work had even more experience. Robby Crean is the grandson of John Crean, the legendary founder of Fleetwood who died in 2007. The younger Crean had worked for his father, Johnnie, who started his own company, Alfa Leisure Inc., in the 1970s. At 39, Robby Crean has essentially been in the RV business all his life.
Alfa Leisure, which had been based in Chino, went out of business in 2008. Robby Crean held several management positions with the firm and said the industry can make a comeback.
“If you start with the lower-end products and build up from there, that’s the way to come back,” Crean said.
The industry started to slide about four years ago because consumers became wary of high gas prices, but the bottom fell out when housing prices stopped rising and homeowners no longer had the equity to spend on RVs.
MVP, which makes towable trailers, was started in Moreno Valley in 2008 by three industry veterans and, after finding a new financial backer, was able to buy Fleetwood’s old plants for $18.6 million in cash in a bankruptcy sale. The company is eyeing overseas markets, especially Asia, for its RVs.
Brad Williams, the CEO, said MVP’s models are designed to be shipped in containers, making them easier to export.
“I’m not sure what the others in the industry are doing,” Williams said. “But we think there are great opportunities in Asia.”
Not all the applicants were veterans of the RV industry. Inland Southern California’s unemployment rate was 15.1% in July, one of the highest of any metropolitan area in the country, and people looking for work say they’re willing to be creative.
Cheryl Garcia-Wood, 52, of Riverside, has been unemployed for almost 18 months and came out early Saturday hoping for anything.
“Jobs are hard to find, but we’re out here doing our best,” Garcia-Wood said. “I see a long line of people, but it’s like playing the Lotto. If you don’t play, you can’t win.”