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RV industry leaders say rebound picking up speed

September 1, 2014

The recreational vehicle industry is enjoying a smooth ride as the recession that devastated it gets further in the distance.

Key manufacturers and suppliers have announced recent expansions, the stock market is at an all-time high, and consumers are more confident in the future, industry leaders say.

"I think most people will tell you we are in a long-term growth mode that goes back to probably mid-2010 going forward," Mark Bowersox, executive director of the Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council, told the South Bend Tribune.

The changes are a vast improvement over 2009, when Elkhart County's unemployment rate jumped to nearly 19 percent as the recreational vehicle industry saw orders plummet. Shipments that year sank to 165,700 units amid weak demand and dried up credit that left dealers' lots filled with the vehicles.

The rebound is also being fueled by retirements of baby boomers and an increase in the number of younger people interested in RVs, he said.

Bob Martin, president and CEO of Thor Industries, said that even though the industry can react to "any blip that could happen throughout the world," he sees steady growth for years to come.

"We still have five years of baby boomers buying into our demographic, which helps us," Martin said. "But then there's also the shifts in products that we're building that appeal to younger generations."

Martin said Gen Xers and millennials are discovering the RV lifestyle and can find travel trailers that cost less than $15,000. That's leading to a lot of first-time buyers.

"It's a great way to spend time with your family, to explore the outdoors, the national park system," Martin said. "Just reconnect with the natural beauty we have in North America."

The improvement in the RV industry has Elkhart County running out of room.

Dorinda Heiden-Guss, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corp., said the county is running short on sizable buildings to lease. But she said plans are in the works for 40,000- and 100,000 square-foot expandable spec buildings.

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