For the past few days, Goshen News Business Editor Roger Schneider has been hoofing it around the Kentucky Expo Center in Louisville, Ky., at the National RV Trade Show. What he has seen and has reported is substantial progress. Oh, how far we have come.
“We have pretty high expectations,” said Paul Campbell, marketing director for Gulf Stream Coach in Nappanee from the convention center floor Monday afternoon. “This year has been good, up substantially over last year. So we think there is still substantial demand in the market.”
Recent shipment numbers seem to support Campbell’s optimism. The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reported last month the shipments in October were up nearly 29 percent over that of September, and up nearly 17 percent from October 2012.
THROUGH OCTOBER, 277,703 RV units had been shipped. That’s just 8,000 fewer units than what were shipped in all of 2012. Compared to 2012 numbers through October, there have been double-digit shipment gains in all but one vehicle category. As a result, shipment numbers are at levels not seen in more than eight years.
This year’s trade show features 61 manufacturers and 225 supplier exhibitors. More than 8,000 attendees are expected to attend through today. The theme of this year’s show is “Outlook 2014: Everywhere.”
Yes, RVs are everywhere, but according to the RVIA more than 60 percent of all RVs are made here in Elkhart County. When you consider that there are more than 12,000 RV-related businesses in the U.S. with combined annual revenues of more than $37.5 billion, it becomes quite clear that the county’s economic health is tethered firmly to the RV industry.
SO, WHEN THE Great Recession hit in June 2007, approximately 280,000 RV industry layoffs followed — about 55 percent of its work force. As a result, Elkhart County’s unemployment led the nation and hovered around 20 percent for months. Yes, here in this working-class county the pain was felt, well, everywhere.
In December of 2008, The Goshen News sent Schneider down to the RVIA show. The tourniquet had barely been applied. The bleeding had yet to stop. Executives and sales reps, didn’t have much to say. What they did say was usually through a veil of wishful thinking, but for those who have a knack for reading between the lines, the desperation was as clear as day.
So, five years later, we’ve come a long way. We’ve driven out of the abyss. The optimism oozing from Louisville is not an illusion. It is real and can be seen in the cold light of day in the overflowing parking lots of RV factories in Goshen, Middlebury, Nappanee and Elkhart. We’re building again, we’re moving forward and the hard reality of 2008 — thankfully — keeps getting smaller in our rear-view mirror.