WAKARUSA — Monday seemed like any other day here in this town of about 1,600 people.
Brightly colored holiday decorations hung in windows and doorways. Speakers mounted throughout the town center blasted fully orchestrated Christmas carols. Residents gathered at the ShortStop Inn and Cook’s Pizza to get a bite to eat.
For Cathy Doering, however, it was anything but normal. Her husband works for Entegra Coach.
“He went in this morning and found out he’s got ’til Feb. 6,” Doering said. “We’re moving to Texas. That’s what he keeps saying. He just knew something was gonna happen.”
Monday afternoon, parent company Jayco Corp. announced the closure for the Wakarusa Entegra Coach plant, whose production will move to a pre-existing facility in Middlebury. Jayco purchased the plant along with other assets of Travel Supreme in April of this year.
The closure will affect 134 jobs. At least 100 will be eliminated, according to Jayco Director of Marketing Sid Johnson.
Times are looking tight for Doering and her husband. She has been working part-time at the Dollar General in town for a month, and is only scheduled for 25 hours each week. Her husband isn’t the first person she knows who has been caught by the mass layoffs and plant closures within the RV industry.
“I’ve had a few brothers, a few friends,” she said. “My sister-in-law, too. She worked for Monaco,”
Doering noted that although Dollar General hasn’t seen much change in business, there has been a noticeable drop in customers for restaurants and gas stations.
Wakarusa Party Shop, a liquor store on Ind. 19, has taken a significant hit from local job losses.
“I’ve had this place 20 years and this is definitely the worst,” owner Gary Longfield said. “I hope I never see it this bad again.”
According to Longfield, his business is down 40 percent since the layoffs started.
“So far it’s been holding it’s own,” he said. “What will really tell the tale is the utility bill.”
Before the RV industry’s downturn, workers would come into the store around mid-day. The morning before Monaco Coach closed its facilities and eliminated 1,400 jobs in July, Longfield said the employees came in as usual.
They told him something was going on, but they didn’t know what. Five minutes after they left he heard the closure announcement on the radio.
“About 45 minutes later,” Longfield said, “they were all back and they were (angry).”
Longfield originally moved to Wakarusa from Nappanee 27 years ago, and has now been running the shop for 20.
That was one of his best days of business.
“I figure the ones who lost their jobs thought ‘I can’t believe this happened, I need a beer.’ ” Longfield said. “And the ones who didn’t thought ‘I’m glad I’ve still got a job, it’s time to celebrate. I need a beer.’ ”
Another local business took a more personal hit from the news.
Wakarusa Hardware, along with weathering the same economy as everyone else, was doing some business with Entegra.
“We had our fingers crossed that they would stay here and pick up where Travel Supreme left off, but that’s obviously not the case,” Kenny Twa said.
Twa has owned and run the small downtown business for 18 years. Neither he nor employee Mike Schade seemed much thrilled by the latest development.
“They’re getting rolled down just like bowling pins,” Twa said of the RV factories. “One after another.
“I’m sorry to see it, but it’s a trend,”
Wakarusa Town Manager Tom Roeder heard the news when he received a copy of the company’s state filing announcing the closure Monday morning.
“Boy, you hate to think you’re so hardened that you’re not shocked,” he said. “At this point, hardly anything would surprise me.”
Although still optimistic, Roeder has also seen suppliers scaling down as the RV industry continues to take hit after hit. He agrees that there isn’t much good news right now.
One thing he has seen, albeit on a small scale, are displaced workers trying to move forward.
“Some are undergoing some training to gain new skills,” Roeder said. “Which is good.”
Until RV manufacturers are able to get their feet back under them, the recent layoffs and closures will likely continue to be the norm. If that’s the case, workers and their families will continue to struggle.
“They’re all over this town,” Doering said. “I just don’t know what they’re gonna do. I don’t.”
Jayco President and Chief Operating Officer Derald Bontrager said the company had to make the decision to close the plant because of the economic downturn.
“This action has been taken as a result of the cruel impact that negative economic conditions have had on the RV industry,” Bontrager said in a prepared statement. “We sincerely regret the hardship it will place on the Entegra Coach employees and their families.
Bontrager sang a familiar tune of a decline in credit supply and the need to reduce operating costs.
The Entegra line of products include high-end motorhomes and fifth wheel travel trailers. The company introduced a variety of new luxury products last week at the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s annual trade show in Louisville, Ky.
Bontrager said those products will continue to be built and marketed under the Entegra name. A separate dealer network, sales staff and product development team will be maintained.
This is Jayco’s second consolidation. Last month the company announced it would close its Starcraft RV plant in Topeka and move production of that line to its Middlebury plants.
Jayco is a private company that manufactures recreational vehicles under the Jayco, Entegra and Starcraft brand names.
Even with the announced closing, Bontrager said last week’s trade show gave him some reason for optimism.
“We have been gratified with the commitment that the dealers of all our brands have made to us,” Bontrager said. “This gives us confidence that Jayco will continue to enjoy market share momentum. But we also understand that the current market for recreational vehicles is severely diminished and the recovery will require hard work and dedication.”
WAKARUSA — Monday seemed like any other day here in this town of about 1,600 people.
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