RV industry makes comeback in Elkhart County

The recreational vehicle industry, which drives the economy of Elkhart County in northern Indiana, came back strong in 2016 and industry leaders are optimistic about next year.

Unemployment peaked in Elkhart County at 19.6 percent in 2009 as the RV industry was shedding jobs and struggling to stay afloat during the Great Recession, The Elkhart Truth reported.

"We went into 2016 thinking this was going to be a great year and everything so far has surpassed our expectations," said Kevin Broom, spokesman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. "There is real optimism and everyone is looking forward to 2017 and what it holds for the industry."

The industry has since shown resiliency. The county had an unemployment rate of 3.3 percent this year, and potential customers have more disposable income.

Paul Campbell with Nappanee-based Gulf Stream Coach Inc. said the industry's growth shows there's an active market for the products.

"It's a clear indication that the market is active, that our products are being well-received by retail customers and that our way of doing business is resonating with dealers," he said.

Bob Martin, chief executive officer of Elkhart-based Thor Industries Inc., said the financial difficulties have shown that the industry is capable of coming back stronger.

"We all learned a lot coming out of the recession," said Martin.

He said what was most surprising of 2016 for the RV industry is that the strong growth happened during an election year, which Martin said is unusual.

"We had our Power Breakfast in the spring and we all were expecting things to slow down a bit because of the elections," he said.

However, he added that they "had a strong open house in September, which propelled us forward, and after the election everything continued to be robust."

Martin said that going into 2017 he predicts another really strong quarter.

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