Tag: Elkhart

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.

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Manufacturing, the Indiana Way

From Think.no: “THINK fortsetter sin globale ekspansjon og kunngjør ny fabrikk i USA“: ” THINK ønsker å starte salg av THINK City i USA senere i år, og bedriften planlegger å investere 43,5 millioner dollar i bygging og montering av fasiliteter og produksjonsutstyr i Elkhart County. Fabrikken kan iverksette produksjon i første kvartal 2011.”

Governor Mitch Daniels, Think's Richard Canny, announce Elkhart site for new electric vehicle plant. (Think photo.)That’s great news!

And what it means is, per AutoBlogGreen, “Officially Official: Think will build City electric car in Elkhart, Indiana“: “After all the announcements and retractions, hints and tax abatements, it’s come to this: Think will make electric cars in Elkhart, Indiana. Think has been talking about building and selling the highway-speed Think City electric vehicle to the U.S. for quite some time and two locations in Indiana – Elkhart and nearby Middlebury – were in the running the longest to get the manufacturing facility.” See also, “Think CEO Richard Canny talks about Indiana plant deal, electric car plans for the U.S.”

Detroit News, “Think cars to be built in Indiana” “Michigan remains in the running for a planned technology center for electric car maker Think, but lost out on Tuesday to Indiana as the site of the company’s first U.S. manufacturing facility. The technology center would employ about 70 people, said Think spokesman Brendan Prebo. A decision on that facility could be made in the next three to six months. Think CEO Richard Canny was in Elkhart, Ind., Tuesday to announce the Norwegian company plans to invest $43.5 million in a former glass factory to start building the Think City electric car there in 2011.”

Indiana continues to beat out Michigan for new manufacturing investment. How does that keep happening? Well, money played a role in this specific case, as the Elkhart Truth reports, “Local, state incentives helped lure Think to Elkhart: “Financial incentives offered by state and local governments weren’t the deciding factor in bringing the electric automaker to Indiana, Think executives said, though it was part of the ‘price of entry.’”

But also look to Gov. Mitch Daniel’s more general philosophy of streamlined government, regulatory efficiency, and a favorable workforce and tax environment. (Contrast that to California’s mistakes.) And, as he said in a recent interview, “We must never walk away from the manufacturing base that’s made us strong.”

And in related news, a KPMG news release reports, “Global Automakers Will Significantly Increase Spending On New Technologies, Hybrid and Alternative Fuel Vehicles, Says KPMG Survey“: “DETROIT, Jan. 7 /PRNewswire/ — In response to consumer demand, senior automotive executives are expected to increase their investment in new technologies to produce more environmentally-friendly, fuel-efficient vehicles, according to the 11th annual global automotive survey conducted by KPMG LLP, the U.S. audit, tax and advisory firm.”

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Elkhart in February, Wakarusa in August, Always Infrastructure

President Obama’s February 9th trip to Elkhart, Indiana, was an early and high-profile part of the White House’s push for passage of the stimulus bill. Northeastern Indiana is the center of the recreational trailer industry, and the local economy had been rocked by high gas prices, the credit crisis, and collapsed consumer demand.

At the time, the stimulus bill was being promoted with an emphasis on infrastructure, and the phrase “shovel-ready projects” was in wide use. In the President’s February remarks to the Elkhart townhall-style meeting, this was the relevant passage:

Now, you may have heard some of the critics of our plan say it would create mostly government jobs.  That is not true.  Ninety percent — more than 90 percent of the jobs created under this recovery act will be in the private sector; more than 90 percent.  (Applause.)  But it’s not just the jobs that will benefit Indiana and the rest of America.  It’s the work people will be doing — rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our dams, our levees; roads like US 31 here in Indiana — (applause) — that Hoosiers can count on — that connects small towns and rural communities to opportunities for economic growth.  And I know that a new overpass downtown would make a big difference for businesses and families right here in Elkhart.  (Applause.)

President Obama spoke yesterday in Wakarusa, just south of Elkhart, at the Monaco Coach operations. It seems like transportation infrastructure has been demoted as a topic by the White House, but in fact, the President did mention it Wednesday. The comparable passage:

The last third of the Recovery Act — and that’s what we’re going to talk about here today — is for investments that are not only putting people back to work in the short term, but laying a new foundation for growth and prosperity in the long run.  These are the jobs of building the future of America:  upgrading our roads and our bridges; renovating schools and hospitals.  The Elkhart area has seen the benefits:  Dozens were employed to resurface the runway at Elkhart Airport; a four-mile stretch of highway is being upgraded on US-33; the Heart City Health Center has received recovery dollars to expand services and hire additional staff.

He used the word “infrastructure” twice: “This is about creating the infrastructure of innovation,” when referring to the battery grants, and, “[The] recovery plan began the process of reform by modernizing our health care infrastructure.”

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Elkhart Employers: Demonized in July, Memorialized in February

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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