Congratulations, Elkhart! Your Economy Must be Recovering

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection holds a hearing Wednesday, “Public Sales Of Hurricane Katrina/Rita FEMA Trailers: Are They Safe Or Environmental Time Bombs?

How’s that for a loaded hearing title? You can add a question mark, but the accusation still hangs out there. So far the only witness we find announced is a physician, Tulane professor and TV medical correspondent, Dr. Corey Herbert, who has campaigned against the FEMA trailers.

Yet the fact that Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) has countenanced a hearing tells you that things must be looking up economically in Elkhart, Ind., the home of the RV industry. It’s OK to start picking on local employers again.

In 2008, the House Oversight Committee held hearings to raise allegations against the RV industry about supposedly contaminated trailers supplied to the federal government to house Hurricane Katrina refugees. The July 9, 2008, hearing called in the top executives from the trailer companies to beat them around the head.

At the same time, trial lawyers were ginning up lawsuits against the companies, claiming millions in damages because of residents’ exposure to contaminated trailers. (Litigation continues, with some victories for the manufacturers.) The Congressional hearings represented one more burden for Elkhart, Ind., and surrounding communities, center of the trailer manufacturing industry in the United States.

Then, in mid-2008, Congressional interest subsided. And just about that time, Democratic presidential candidate Barakh Obama campaigned in Elkhart, visiting twice to decry the region’s 20 percent unemployment rate.

Headlines about Congressional accusations against the industry would not have helped politically.

After the election, the President kept the focus on Elkhart, holding his first townhall meeting there on February 9, 2009. He returned to the region on August 5. Stimulus funds flowed.

And the economy IS picking up, with unemployment falling from above 20 percent to 15.2 percent in March. As The Nightly Business Reports reported on Friday, “RV Sales are Revving Up.”

That’s great news, especially as RVs represent the kind of big ticket, discretionary purchases that fall during a recession. If sales are picking up, so is the economy.

And so are the Congressional hearings that provide more fodder for  the lawyers suing the travel trailer industry.

UPDATE (1:50 p.m.): The Committee has released the witness list, and the hearing focuses on government sales of the trailers, as opposed to manufacturers’ sales to the government. There will still be fodder, we reckon.

Leave a Reply