Elkhart Employers: Demonized in July, Memorialized in February

By February 9, 2009Briefly Legal, Economy

President Obama mentioned a trailer manufacturer in his opening remarks today in Elkhart, Indiana, as he campaigned for the economic stimulus bill. Make sense. Elkhart is the center of the American RV, trailer and manufactured housing industry and they’ve all been hammered by the recession. Credit has dried up, gas prices soared last year, and people are buying fewer luxury items like the elaborate RVs. No wonder unemployment in Elkhart has more than tripled over the past year to 15.3 percent. (See the White House’s summary.)

At the same time, we wonder whether Elkhart isn’t suffering some from other politicians’ attacks against the RV industry, accusations that made headlines all through 2007, playing off and reinforcing litigation against local employers. You remember, the House Oversight Committee hearing last July on FEMA’s “toxic trailers?”

Here’s how a South Bend television station covered the hearing and anti-business accusations:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Four Elkhart County RV companies were put under the microscope on Capitol Hill Wednesday, as Congress works to figure out who’s to blame for toxic trailers provided by FEMA to victims of Hurricane Katrina….[snip]

Nappanee based Gulf Stream Coach Chairman Jim Shea, Goshen based Keystone RV President Ronald Fenech, Elkhart based Forest River President and C.E.O. Peter Liegl, and Middlebury based Pilgrim International Past President Steve Bennett were all on hand to testify, along with Centers for Disease Control Director of Environmental Hazards Dr. Michael McGeehin.

The group was sworn in before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee late Wednesday morning, and Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wasted no time getting to the heart of the matter.

“What this hearing will show is that no one was looking out for the interests of the displaced families living in the FEMA trailers,” he said during his opening remarks. “FEMA failed to do its job, and trailer manufacturers took advantage of the situation. During today’s hearing, the trailer manufacturers will be asked some hard questions.”

Demonized in July, memorialized in February. Funny how that works.

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