By ROGER SCHNEIDER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Elkhart County led the nation in job growth by percentage in 2012 and was ninth for wage gain in the fourth quarter of 2012.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the county had a 7.4 percent gain compared to the national gain of 1.9 percent for large counties. In March the bureau had announced the county led the country in job growth from September 2011 to September 2012. This most recent announcement is for the 2012 calendar year.
The bureau reported the county had an 8.9 percent gain in wages from the fourth quarter of 2011 to the fourth quarter of 2012, placing it ninth in the country for wage gain. The average weekly wage in the county in the fourth quarter for 2012 was $782. But that number doesn’t mean the county has higher-than-average wages. Elkhart County’s average weekly wage is below the state average of $816, according to bureau statistics, and well below the national average of $1,000 weekly.
When just manufacturing jobs are considered, the employment growth was even larger. The county added 5,479 manufacturing jobs in 2012, which was an 11.6 percent growth rate in that segment of the economy.
Local leaders were happy to hear the news.
“People are getting more confidence in the economy,” said Goshen Chamber of Commerce President David Daugherty. “They are beginning to buy RVs. We are seeing RV sales going back up to some highs in the mid-2005-06 area, and we have some RV suppliers and producers doing pretty darn good right now.”
RV sales are essential to the county’s economic growth as 40 percent of the county’s manufacturing base is tied to the RV industry. And that industry has become even more concentrated in Elkhart County due to consolidations during the recession and following years that resulted in mergers and North American operations being centralized in the county.
“Over 80 percent of the RVs produced in the country are produced here in Elkhart County,” Daugherty said. “Whether its Dutchmen, Keystone or Forest River. These guys are just going at record numbers, and that means Lippert and others who supply them are doing the same thing.”
Lippert Components in Goshen is one of several RV supplier companies that have announced expansion plans in the past year.
While the bureau’s statistics cover 2012, local job growth has been continuing this year. In May Lippert officials told the City Council the company would expand operations at three Goshen plants and add equipment and 378 new jobs by 2016. The company will invest $10 million in the expansion.
And the job growth is occurring countywide.
“There are help wanted signs out,” Nappanee Mayor Larry Thompson said of his community. “We have bounced back, I think better than most. Our local companies are diversified a little bit. Even though there was some pretty tough times, we didn’t loose many. ...”
Nappanee has RV manufacturers and suppliers dotting the lots in the city’s industrial parks. But there are manufacturers in other segments of the economy as well, including Kountry Wood Products that manufactures furniture and cabinets and Challenger Door, which manufactures doors for buses.
As he sees “help wanted” signs around Nappanee and the county, Thompson said he is wondering about the official jobless rate, which was 8.2 percent in May.
“I wonder what the full employment number is,” Thompson asked. “Maybe we are near full employment.”
As the county continues to rebound from the 2007-2009 recession that blew up the local jobless rate to more than 18 percent, Thompson said he is grateful for all the local business owners who stuck it out.
“These are people who support our community for just bout everything we do,” Thompson said. “And we are glad to seem them back and hiring.”
County job growth
Elkhart, Ind. 7.4
Lexington, S.C. 6.9
Rutherford, Tenn. 6.4
Utah, Utah 6.0
Montgomery, Texas 5.7
Fort Bend, Texas 5.3
Douglas, Colo. 5.1
Collin, Texas 4.8
Brazos, Texas 4.4
Travis, Texas 4.3
Salt Lake, Utah 4.3