RV company planning Indiana factory expansions

A recreational vehicle maker is planning factory expansions in northern Indiana that could add more than 400 jobs in a county that was badly battered by that industry's collapse during the recession.

Forest River Inc. is seeking local property tax breaks and state incentives toward expanding its operations in Goshen, Middlebury and Millersburg, all in Elkhart County.

Dave Ogle, director of business retention and expansion for the Economic Development Corp. of Elkhart County, told The Elkhart Truth that the county needs to take advantage of a contraction in the RV industry.

"What used to be 30 or 40 manufacturers is now three, four or five manufacturers," Ogle said. "I think we have a great opportunity to continue to protect that business cluster and the supplier chains that go along with that."

The county just east of South Bend was hit by thousands of layoffs from RV factories early in the recession, leading to it have one of the state's highest unemployment rates for couple years and peaking in March 2009 at 18.9 percent.

The RV industry's rebound has seen the Elkhart County jobless rate drop to 8.6 percent in May, which was the 26th highest among the state's 92 counties.

Forest River plans to add 120 employees to its Millersburg location, with 40 more jobs planned at its Middlebury plant. The Elkhart County Council has a public hearing scheduled next month on the company's property tax abatement requests on its expansion plans at those plants.

Company officials also will be meeting this week with the Goshen City Council on a similar proposal for tax abatements.

If all goes according to plan, the RV company's expansion could mean some 445 jobs, Ogle said.

Company spokesman Mike Stump said the tax breaks will allow Forest River to remain competitive in the RV industry. Stump said the company must gain local support to qualify for state assistance, which could add up to between $6 million and $10 million.

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